2012-03-29

Baptists, Bootleggers, and Self-Defense

When we approach our parts, our inner voices, in a spirit of humility and a friendly desire to understand them, we begin to understand why they cause the trouble that they do, and we can regard them with compassion.

So often, however, we don't approach our parts with that humble and friendly curiosity. Instead, we demonize them -- we call them our demons. (I referred to our parts as demons myself in the previous post. It's nice to "embrace your demons;" nicer still to see that they aren't really demons at all.) Then we call upon one "demon" to fight another. This makes both personae more demonic. Before long, a kind of internal corruption sets in. You called in one goon squad to fight another, and the two can end up going into cahoots with each other.

For example, the way that bootleggers and the evangelicals have worked together while apparently being opposed has become so well known that a model of politics has come to be named the “Baptists and bootleggers” model. In the paradigm case, preachers demand prohibition on alcohol sales in their county, while criminal bootleggers also work to keep alcohol sales illegal -- so that they can maintain their illegal business. The bootleggers help the preachers by ensuring that alcohol continues to be available – which means the preachers will always be able to pack their pews with periodic rousing denunciations of demon liquor. The preachers help the bootleggers by preventing competition from alcohol retailers. Sometimes the bootleggers themselves are devoted tithing members of the church, supporting the wonderful work the church does in ensuring the bootlegger’s income.

That kind of corruption can happen at the social level, and like a fractal pattern, can recapitulate within our hearts, as our inner parts put on a big show of fighting each other while actually they depend upon each other.

“Choose your enemies carefully,” the saying goes, “for you will become like them.” Alternatively: befriend them instead, and they lose their power over you.

Which brings us back to the Trayvon Martin case. George Zimmerman was concerned about crime. He spent time going door to door in his neighborhood urging his neighbors to be on the lookout for “young black men who appear to be outsiders.” The community reportedly did have a number of burglaries, thefts, and one shooting during the previous year. Zimmerman himself had called the police 46 times in the 14 months before his encounter with Trayvon Martin. In his battle with the forces that he saw as threatening, he became a perpetrator of the very thing he feared and hated. In the Sanford police department we may be seeing the same dynamic recapitulated on a larger scale.

Zimmerman claims he was acting in self-defense. Whether or not his action meets the legal criteria for self-defense, there was some kind of defensiveness at work. Remembering that whatever evil we see out there is also in here, in each of our own hearts, the question for each of us is: "What do I do in self-defense?" The things we do out of a felt need to protect ourselves often lead to harm, to ourselves and to others. When I get self-defensive, I know I shut down the possibilities for connection and love in the moment.

I’m not saying, never take protective action. I’m saying watch the protective habits, the protective impulse and urge. Just watch them, with compassion for them as they try to do their job of protecting you.

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Part 4 of "Evil."
Next: Part 5: "Love Them Into Transformation"
Previous: Part 3: "Breaking Old Ground"
Begginning: Part 1: "Tragedy. Spring. Fractals."