‘Only Suffering Will Radicalize Americans’
I honestly cannot remember who it was, but just recently I heard a fellow leftist make this proclamation. Yes folks, you heard that right, a fellow leftist! I am in fact a dirty commie, a stinkie pinkie, a soyboy left-o anti-fascist anarchist. I apologize for being abrasive, but there’s an awful lot of buildup there; it seems the people who complain the most about identity politics sure do like to play them, and very few and far between are the times I’ve felt comfortable enough to openly state my stance on issues, so every time it comes up it’s like a clogged firehose! Well, maybe a garden hose that’s been folded on itself, then quickly straightened out, or maybe the thumb thing. Anyway, one of my fellow left-os spouted this grand claim, and I can’t help but take issue with it.
“Only in suffering will we find grace.’
This is a line I heard spoken the other night while watching The Handmaid’s Tale. The Mean Old Aunt said this while torturing one of the Handmaids by burning her hand over a gas stove, or something like that. That’s a good show, I haven’t finished it, but I have read the book and I can say that it’s becoming eerily apropos to our daily lives. As the US Supreme Court fiasco unfolds, it’s come to light that the latest name in the hat has deep and troubling ties to a group that is strikingly reminiscent of the antagonists in the story. Margaret Atwood was definitely paying attention when she wrote that speculative fiction. Now, I need to admit here that I do not have any first-hand knowledge of People Of Praise, that everything I know about them comes from the last couple of days on the internet, and that I have in fact been largely relying on the assessment of well-known and well-respected cult expert Steven Hassan; but I have been learning more about them and I’ll say that, while they are less extreme than many other Fundamentalist movements, they are radical and dangerous enough and I do not want an acolyte of theirs in my Supreme Court.
I’ve heard my whole life many people glorify and extol suffering. Some see it as a gift from, or even evidence for, their god(s). Some people see it as the most valuable, often only, true teacher in life, that those of us who have yet to suffer a certain amount are incapable of having an appropriate level of insight. I understand why, suffering definitely catches up to you quick. But, I’ve seen just as many people fold under suffering as I have seen flourish. Suffering is to be avoided, not welcomed and worshipped. Suffering is not only not the best, it’s not even the only way to gain knowledge, the really cool thing about being a human being is that we have an organ that allows us to ponder. Our brains, our minds, our imaginations give us the wonderful ability to understand things! Empathy. Compassion. Humanity. These things are the great pursuits and true rewards of being human. They are also components of understanding, requisite tools that, along with logic and critical thinking, give us the ability to examine and comprehend concepts in an abstract manner.
I have suffered what some would call a lot in life. I personally think I have suffered not meaningfully more or less than the average bear, but we sure do like to categorize and compare things. We also really like to minimize the human elements of our daily lives, preferring instead to focus on the material. I have yet to meet another human being who does not suffer. Some of us suffer in a material fashion, we shoulder hunger and thirst and illness and desperation daily. Some of us suffer in other ways, alienation, disenfranchisement, loneliness, doubt, regret, loss, longing; I really cannot imagine another human who doesn’t suffer. Some of our suffering is more immediate, and some of us seem to wear it more prominently on our sleeves, but it’s there inside each and every one of us. It’s there inside each and every one of us, yet we all try to hide it from each other, despite the fact that coming together and reveling in our shared suffering is often all it takes to assuage the suffering and alleviate the pain. Now, I know that sounds a bit Utopian, and I do not want to directly equate the pain of those among us suffering from the most immediate circumstances with that of those enduring relatively minor discommodities, I do mean to assert that a less self-centered, less exclusionary, even less cynical perspective can only aid in our efforts to overcome suffering.
So, we all suffer, and it’s absurd to try and quantify and compare how much, the simple acknowledgment of the condition is enough to recognize that we are all in the same boat. I do have my own implicit biases, and one of them is that people who have come from privilege have no context for understanding what I have lived through; but implicit bias is something each and every one of us needs to be aware of and work to overcome. I wholeheartedly believe that any healthy, fully-functional human has the capacity for true understanding. The fact that we can grapple with such obscure concepts as quantum physics and complex mathematics, the evergreen fields of sociology and economics and psychology, the acts of engineering and simple problem solving, these things are all evidence for the claim that the human imagination is a more powerful thing than we give it credit for. And I get it, we jealously guard our own lived experiences, especially in times when we recognize that the very system itself is designed to exploit and extract every bit of value from our lives and leave us broken and eventually forgotten.
Many Fundamentalist movements use suffering as a centerpiece; a justification for their existence, a battle cry, a recruiting tool, a badge of honor, a form of punishment or reprimand, even an indicator of exclusivity — you can’t join my cool kids club because you’ve never gone through “The Shit.” Could that be secret fear that the person you’re excluding is actually better than you, so you come up with a convoluted explanation for why they’re actually not better? You see this on all sides of the issues too; many of my fellow leftists like to exclude based on material circumstances, as I said above, I have been fighting a lifelong battle against doing this myself. Those of us on the left need to hold ourselves accountable, we claim to believe in Liberty, Equality and Fraternity, but oftentimes we simply fall in love with our own reflections and lionize ourselves in an attempt to cope with the fear and suffering. Suffering is a feature of life that we should seek to overcome, even though we never will eradicate it we should spend our lives fighting it. Suffering is not a litmus test used to signal and exclude, not something that should, or even can, be quantified, not something that will radicalize but something that can ultimately only weaken us overall.
Those of us on the Right, however, seem to view this all through a different lens. Through suffering, peace. Suffering is God’s instruction. When God closes a door, he opens a window. Whoever suffers in the body is done with sin. Carry your cross. This, too, shall pass. The aphorisms abound. Now, I actually appreciate some aspects of these views, perseverance is important after all, and every single one of us has benefited from telling ourselves to buck up from time to time; but the Right seems to have taken this a bit far, so far in fact that many of us have come to view the American Evangelical Right as a death cult. The concepts of Christian persecution and righteous suffering, of Soul-Building and vicarious redemption and disciplinary suffering, and many more faith-based examples are actually quite harmful, and that’s just from traditional American Protestantism. I don’t want to give you the idea that I hate Christianity, most of my loved ones belong to the category, and many of them more than just nominally. I do, however, see it as a slippery slope, you’d be hard pressed to find a group that does as much victim-blaming and -shaming, that does as much shunning and psychological harm, as much fear-mongering and prejudice emboldening, outside of the American Christian church. And the really scary thing about this is that they all worship suffering, they justify their own actions by claiming some form or other of divine will; if their ostensibly all-loving and all-powerful God can allow the horrors we see on a daily basis, surely they can be forgiven for their own shortcomings. And this serves to dissuade one from self-reflection, when you get points for how much you’ve suffered you start to view it as not only the most important thing but a thing to be aspired to, even encouraged and spread around a bit. I am not saying that all Christians are demented and do nothing but hurt one another. I am saying that these groups that are built on subservience and sufferance, these groups that glorify persecution and encourage repression are found largely within American Evangelicalism, and not so much anywhere else; but that’s not to say that they don’t exist.
It really rubbed me the wrong way to hear a fellow leftist simultaneously belittle and glorify suffering, as if the material consequences of this twisted vaudevillian sham that is our current administration are something to be eagerly anticipated and happily accepted. It called to mind the warped cults that exist within the American Evangelical Right who seem to thrive on pain and fear, who peddle persecution and prejudice, who repress the richness of those that belong, that shun and shame those who try to live a well-adjusted life outside of the cult. It also encouraged me to do some self-reflection, all too often I have found myself discounting a person’s experience or opinion because they couldn’t possibly understand the horrible things I’ve seen; there is no justification for excluding a person based on things over which they have no control.
Thank you for stopping by and sticking around! I apologize if I’ve said anything that rubs you the wrong way. If I have, I’d encourage you you reach out and let me know, I’m more interested in having productive conversations than pushing my own views, and I’d love the opportunity to learn something! I hope you all are well, and I hope you find something valuable in these things that I share!