The Politics of Separation


There are well-known techniques to purposely oppress and devalue another person or group. Typically, these persons or groups are first classified as some kind of object (e.g., immigrant, liberal, redneck, feminazi, Pocahontas) and rendered as “other.” This now-distinctive “otherness” is then repeated and caricatured in a torrent of images, memes, and tropes that propel stigma and justify social exclusion. This can be thought of, Bill White says, as “the machinery of oppression.” [1]

Propelled by simplistic either-or binaries of "us or them," "right or wrong," "real or fake," our current political leadership purposely exploits racial, economic, and educational divides by stoking contempt between our own people. Not only can this feel good (there is research that suggests contempt for the “other” can increase individual self-esteem for some people), but this politics of separation distracts us from something far more sinister. By emotionalizing red states versus blue states, liberals versus conservatives, something far more profound is obscured: a cruelly-calculated transition from democracy to oligarchy. At its heart, the American Constitution is just an idea, and history shows us how fragile ideas like this are.

A healthy life requires healthy neighbors. Even if we do not agree with our neighbors, it is in our direct interest to understand and accept how other people have made sense of their experience,  recognizing their hopes and fears as legitimate responses to the conditions of their lives. In this way, we can resist the strident machinery of separateness which embraces contempt for the “other” as a political technique.

At some point, we all will have to stand for something in the public sphere. It will likely be messy, even dangerous. Indignant clicktivists will spew their inner distempers, born of fears and sorrows then amplified by bots and trolls. But history tells us that child labor laws, the 40-hour work week, Social Security, women’s voting rights, environmental protections, transportation safety (remember the battle over seat belts?) - all had to fight messy public contests. People were angry and - precious profits were threatened.

Here's a question: Is preventable suffering an acceptable outcome, as long as money is saved?

I have the distinct disadvantage of holding a degree in History and a Masters Degree in Community Mental Health - not really a combination that propels hopefulness for our Western world. But I can clarify principles and values by which to guide my life and work. Only in this way -  by continually referring to values and principles, will I be able to discern between real and fake.

In this political season, it feels appropriate to share some of these principles and values. I’ve simplified them into two categories: What I do and don’t believe.

I Believe:

  1. All people are doing the best they know how to, and are responding to the conditions of their lives.
  2. Manners are the outward expression of our inner life. Grace matters.
  3. Our country should care for its weakest members.
  4. Healthcare is a right, not a privilege based on ability to pay.
  5. Education must be affordable and accessible to everyone, with special incentives - including extended health care - for people currently working in coal, oil, and natural gas.
  6. Since greed is such a driving force in our country, sensible government protection from corporate recklessness is essential. Regulations to prevent environmental destruction, protect our foods and water, consumer goods and medicines must have real teeth.
  7. Companies should pay their employees a decent, livable wage.
  8. Addiction, poverty, diabetes, extremism, and planetary ecocide are related.
  9. Gun reform means universal background checks, banning assault-style weapons and gun show loopholes, prohibiting most handguns, and limiting access to all ammunition. The 400 million civilian guns currently in circulation are enough.
  10. Climate change is here; an existential threat requiring immediate global changes in personal consumption and business models, not just massive funding in sustainable energy.
  11. Systemic racism and misogyny (contempt for women) is much worse than we recognize.
  12. Our current administration is fascist. (Recall the History degree, please).
  13. Our immigration predicament is just beginning. Global migration propelled by climate change and political oppression will intensify and further overwhelm current systems.

I Do NOT Believe:

  1. Illegal immigrants should come to the United States as they please and “have it made.” This is an astoundingly complex issue, politicized to exploit fears and divide our electorate, with deep roots in corporate greed and military adventurism in Latin America and elsewhere.
  2. LGBTQI people should have more rights than you.
  3. The government should regulate everything. See #6, above.
  4. Corporations are people.
  5. The government should take your guns.
  6. We can bomb our way into peace.
  7. Women’s bodies should be governed by male politicians.
  8. You should work 80 hours-a-week so your lazy neighbor can get a free ride.

These are just a sampling of personal guideposts; I like to think of them as navigation waypoints, helping me to find my way through a bewildering world. Only by aligning with shared principles and values will we all get a chance to decide for ourselves the difference between fake and real.

Bill White, in his July 18th blog post, urges us to “illuminate the humanity of those objectified, and [to] break down barriers between “they” and “we.” [2] The machinery of oppression and the “othering” of groups of people "relies on cruel, tactical simplifications that exploit our emotions and fears."

Our first task may be to compassionately recognize how these impulses operate in ourselves.

In the words of A.H. Almaas, “Only when compassion is present will people allow themselves to see the truth.”


From her Twitter account on July 19th, Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez posted a "reminder of what people are calling the radical, extreme-left agenda”:

  1. Medicare for all
  2. A living wage and labor rights
  3. K-16 schooling (public college)
  4. 100% renewable energy
  5. Fixing the pipes in Flint
  6. Not hurting immigrants
  7. Holding Wall Street accountable

What will you stand and be seen for?


[2] Op Cit.

2 thoughts on “The Politics of Separation

  1. Cheryl Day says:

    Wonderful discourse. I agree with all of it.

  2. Michael Neuman says:

    Thank you for sharing your thoughtful views of our current political situation. I remain optimistic that humankind is slowly evolving and that these attempts to divide and polarize “the masses” will be a clarion call for people to be more aware of the social and environmental issues we are facing and motivate them to support those with actual solutions. Throughout history oppressive regimes have usually ended in a cultural revolution, and I can only hope that we finally take the steps necessary to truly make this a great nation where everyone has the opportunity to thrive. I commend you for the work your are doing to contribute toward this goal.

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