As the situation that is 2023 rages on, I think to myself, “This is what a digital civil war looks like.”
Of course the war is not all digital. It has made its way into churches, mosques, schools, malls, nightclubs…even the nation’s Capitol. The reality of war has been present with us for several years, but it has perhaps not registered that way. We think of war as armies and guns and mayhem in the streets. Upon careful examining it is evident, though, that war does not begin on a battlefield, or even in a public square. It begins in our minds.
I have lost count of how many times I, and others I know, have said out loud, “How is it possible that?...” (insert atrocity or absurdity that has become our daily reality). My answer has become: “Because propaganda works.”
Most people see their offenses as defenses, or they would not commit the acts that they commit. Every act of violence-- verbal, online, or physical—includes a person who feels threatened. I see warlike behavior on all sides of the political spectrum, some I deem to be justified and some unjustified. Many acts of digital war are decisions to stop talking and take action, or decisions to halt communication that we feel is not working. Both are decisions that a person or a group can take when we feel that we have tried every avenue possible and we cannot see how to continue a relationship without creating a wall, block or stopgap.
In my various roles, people have asked me why I think that censorship has become a tactic for the left--something that at one time would have been anathema to progressives. My answer is that sometimes the only way to make the pain of something stop is to force that pause. To force people to examine the language they are using, the ideas that they are holding. The difficulty, of course, is that this force causes its own casualties, and the stops have their own lancing pains. Knowing which casualties are worth it is a terrifying discernment, and a brutal decision to have to make. Yet we are making them every day at this point, whether we are on the right, the left, or somewhere in the center.
Peace also begins in the mind. We can choose to come back to the table, to have painful conversations. Therefore if we choose peace, it also has consequences. People may never hear what we want or need them to hear. Laws and the enforcement of them will remain skewed and biased. The issue that we are trying to get people to see may not be seen, and the dominant culture may prevail, hurting unheard, underutilized and minoritized communities and individuals. We will have to bear more harm.
The use of warlike measures causes casualties. The use of peaceful measures causes casualties. War is a way to make our voices heard. Peace is a way to make our voices heard. When is it time to use one, and not the other?
When I search for solutions, one I can see is love propaganda and new movements. I want to see a peace movement that encourages dialog from all sides for those who have capacity for listening. It’s OK if some or many of us don’t. To my mind, they are not wrong. They are making a choice that is theirs to make. But if enough people with some capacity and energy left move together in concert, we can accomplish much. The battles will never end but this particular war can be over, because while battles are communal or individual, war is a societal decision.
It is already happening. Podcasts like One Small Step from StoryCorp offer places for people who disagree and have the energy available to them to do so, to have complex and beautiful conversations. Joe Weston’s Respectful Confrontations book has been around for many years, and it offers ways to be true to our values while also respecting the humanity of others. We Will Not Cancel Us by the brilliant Adrienne Maree Brown is another page turner.
When I forgive, I’m not saying the act was OK. I forgive the person, not the act. Acts can be unforgiveable, but the person may not have to be.
This week I bought the first thing with an American flag on it that I have purchased in many years. It’s a T-Shirt that says, Peace, Love, America. I’m gonna wear it.