|My husband says goodbye prior to a rally|
I have started and re-started a detailed post about my view of antifa, a loosely organized and widespread group of antifascist anarchists. As I describe in my previous post, I have marched alongside antifa. I have found them at that event, and others following, to be a far cry from dangerous to the general public. In fact, my experience is that people identifying as antifa take specific measures to keep people safe and that this is done in accordance with their principles, not as a publicity stunt.
With this in mind, I've found much of the conventional, social and fringe media's coverage of antifa troubling. I agree with assertions that antifa's willingness to use violence, alongside its broad parameters for identifying a potential fascist threat and its emphasis on protest over policies are inherently problematic. However, I disagree heavily with the way much of contemporary media has placed more attention on criticizing antifa's methods than on understanding their motivation. In my opinion, it is both counter-productive and dangerous to marginalize and/or condemn antifa's efforts in this way. This insight takes root in my personal observation that both sides of the fascists/antifa struggle exhibit signs of borderline personality disorder, which I have come to intimately understand via both academic study and my direct experience living with, loving and working alongside borderline people.
Borderline personality disorder happens when children who are born with sensory processing and integration differences (either mild or severe) grow up within a home which invalidates their life experience either through benign but consistent neglect or through deliberate, consistent physical and/or verbal abuse. Within relatively healthy environments, sensory processing and integration differences look like anything from learning disabilities, to ADD/ADHD, to OCD, to anxiety, to depression, to autism—all of which require their own level of understanding and care. However, within neglectful or abusive environments, children with sensory processing and integration differences also become hard-wired to be borderline—which is clinically characterized by extreme emotional responses, intense fear of abandonment, self harm, a tendency toward black or white thinking (which leads in turn to the intense idealization or demonization of people or groups), and periods of intense disassociation from reality.
Once wired to be borderline, there is not a chemical fix to the imbalance. The brain has to be re-wired, and the process takes dedication and time either from unusually committed therapists, unusually committed family members, or both. In order for the re-wiring to occur, borderline people have to fully express their truths to the extent that THEY FEEL heard. This often means that they are permitted to absolutely unleash waves of intense verbal rage, condemnation and manipulative rhetoric onto the people around them until they feel their point is made. Then, they must be met with support, empathy and a firm but gently issued statement of truth which recognizes any realistic core of what they've unleashed as well as everything which was grossly out of touch. This must be repeated over time with understanding and persistence. In response, borderline people eventually re-wire themselves and become healthy people who firmly break some seriously destructive family cycles.
A commitment to healing is not singular. It requires intense collaboration, persistence and understanding both on part of the borderline himself/herself, on the family members and on the therapists who all must be extraordinarily grounded in their sense of self so as not to suffer their own severe breakdowns in the face of the borderline's emotional outbursts. Statistically, most people walk away from borderlines for their own self preservation. Often, they walk away condemning the borderline, preaching that they could have done more had the borderline simply been able to “suck it up, take responsibility for his/her life and stop spewing abuse and playing the victim.” That line (suck it up, take responsibility, stop playing the victim) can be good for a borderline person to hear if it is said in an atmosphere which continues to offer actual support. However, I rarely hear it issued under those circumstances. It isn't “good old fashioned tough love and telling it like it is” as many moderate and popular conservative thought leaders seem to spin it. It is a self-protective measure which perpetuates an unpopular pathology currently pervasive in America and showing itself in the current fascists/antifa extremes.
What I think the response to antifa should be is public support, empathy and truth—in that order. That is an important step along the path to healing a culture of abuse, which strikes me as a core issue right now. Transcending humanity's violent tendencies does not heal their source. Participating with and/or encouraging antifa certainly doesn't either when that is all a person does. However, it does play an important role, and I feel it should be viewed as such.
In context, I feel antifa comes at the beginning of our culture's healing process. It represents the crash and catharsis which ultimately empowers the public to fight diplomatically for lasting change. It also allows people more aligned with fascism an opportunity to see their aggression reflected and to re-consider their own views. In my opinion, people who fall far on the side of fascism are those whose response to abuse has been to consciously perpetuate it. After spending formative years consistently condemned for being OTHER, legitimizing the abuse and claiming it as one's own returns a sense of purpose to the former victims' lives. Meanwhile, antifa strike me more as people who have realized there is nothing innately wrong or unnatural about being OTHER. For them, their life experience is validated by confronting their abusers head on.
The support I'm calling for from the public would ideally be directed toward each side. It would need to recognize that the fascist side legitimately feels as though it has been abandoned by a culture which has relatively steadily evolved to meet increasing needs of women, people of color and other former minority groups at the same time that financial crisis has meant a dramatic reduction in income and available jobs. It would also need to recognize that the antifa side legitimately feels as though it has been abandoned by a small but powerful sector of society which will do anything it can to blot out the existence of everyone with a different ideology than it. Empathizing with each side would mean recognizing that each is authentically afraid and has the best interests of humanity, as each side perceives it to be, at heart. Empathy also means avoiding the aforementioned and seemingly all to common pitfall of invalidating each side by acting as though their struggles are not real, can be remedied by some hardcore self-work, or should be met only with gratitude that circumstances are not worse.
With that in mind, I want to close with some truths which feel central to this struggle and stand out most to me right now. Some are verifiable, measurable objective facts. Others are observational and more personal in nature. I recognize the difference between the two and feel it's important for me right now to share both:
- Cultures have enslaved and abused each other throughout the whole of human history. However, everyone's ability to claim this heritage does not exempt us from taking responsibility for our present acts of oppression.
- While the United States of America does offer extensive opportunities to people of all backgrounds, it also breaks records for imprisoning its population, and the severity of consequences for the same crimes varies widely across racial, gender and class lines, with a heavy bias against lower class women of color.
- It is the privilege and duty on American citizens to vote to change laws which do not reflect justice, and there are several reputable studies on the drug war which demonstrate that it is extremely unjust.
- The United States and other global super powers wage wars purported to fight terrorism which focus more on the security of territories and the natural resources they contain, which in turn are exploited to the detriment of people and the planet.
- Militarized police forces often escalate circumstances to points of violence which lead to divisiveness and erode trust.
- Dogmatic teachings which have repressed the rights of women, people of color and a wide variety of non-conforming individuals are eroding despite opposition to change. As this happens and new social norms are established, there are a variety of approaches our society can take which have unique consequences.
- How we express ourselves – be it in the form of active protest, petitions, spending choices, journalism, or the creative arts is very important to both revealing and shaping the direction of our culture. By all means, we must use our voices. We also must remain aware that how and when we express ourselves makes a statement of its own and always merits a response of some sort.
- Our economy, education system, health care system and justice system have changed in response to a number of global factors, and there are multiple directions these can take in the future which all bear attention right now. Generation X, Xennials and Millenials are not simply re-waging their parents cultural wars but rather making unique contributions to human history.
- Making uniform assumptions about ANY group holds inherent danger. Being overly cautious of what one says can also cripple our self expression. Fortunately, humans are capable of expressing a wide variety of views and objectively analyzing these to form more balanced perspectives over time.
- We are all going to be drawn to different aspects of the cultural revolution unfolding around us. We will accomplish more from recognizing and respecting this than from fighting it. We owe it to ourselves to do our individual parts well and to allow others room to do the same.
As that last point is concerned, writing this essay has been one of my parts. I appreciate the people who have inspired me through their unique brand of opposition and support. Additionally, an excellent resource for understanding borderline personality disorder is the book I Hate You, Don't Leave Me, linked here. Detailed information on the war on drugs and incarceration rates in the USA can be found here and here on sites for the Drug Policy Alliance and the Center for Prison Reform.
As I wrote after reviewing a Drug Policy Alliance conference in April, I still believe love wins in the end. However, love itself, in my opinion, defies easy definitions and requires its own dedication to understanding and perseverance over time as it leads us all, not above and beyond our pain, but rather through it.