Activism and Cultural Autoimmunity
we need a cultural anti-inflammatory
God save us from people who mean well. -Vikram Seth, A Suitable Boy
“Being the change” can be treacherous. Perhaps activists can take little advice from the Hippocratic Oath. With good intentions clashing all around us, “First do no harm” is proving to be far more difficult than anyone ever imagined.
I first observed autoimmunity as a cultural phenomenon when I became involved with health freedom activism in 2019.
Anti-Vaxxer. Conspiracy Theorist. Negligent Parent. Selfish. Stupid. Crazy. Dangerous.
I have been called a lot of things since I started vocalizing some of my concerns about these massive attempts to remove philosophical, religious and even medical exemptions for mandated vaccinations across the country. People who I have never met before, who know nothing of my personal choices, have demanded to have me removed from community Facebook pages and suggested that I no longer belong in the community (or the country in some cases). Some claim that my family and I are a threat to the world they live in and say I am not worthy of compassion or a voice in the conversation. But I am going to make another assertion about who I am: I am your friend.
As a holistic healthcare practitioner, I can't help seeing this as part of the "autoimmunity" landscape - just a bigger version of self attacking self. With so much fear and hypervigilance, we as Americans are having a difficult time recognizing friend from foe, and we seem to be destroying ourselves.
As a harbinger of what was to come, the article, which quickly went viral, was taken off Medium within 24 hours.
The seeds of “othering” were beginning to sprout prior to the pandemic. Society was actively being primed to recognize the people who thought differently as enemies. Socially, we were creating antibodies against each other. But it was COVID that initiated the cultural cytokine storm.
From Tom Nikkola’s article:
Behavioral priming can lead us to believe something is a fact even without evidence to support it. It would explain why some people feel it’s okay to throw stones at those who believe in something other than staying home. They want to slander doctors who suggest we’re actually safer being at work. Maybe their strong emotion comes from the fact that they’ve been well-primed over the past couple of months.
I’m learning that our best intentions, if not constantly revisited and rooted back to our values, can do more harm than good. In fact, they can be weaponized and used against us if we’re not careful. Perhaps this is because the more we care, the higher the stakes, the harder we fight.
And things can go awry when the fighter in us isn’t tempered by the lover in us.
But what happens when the lover is under a spell? When our efforts to change the world are a trauma response?
“Of all tyrannies, a tyranny sincerely exercised for the good of its victims may be the most oppressive. It would be better to live under robber barons than under omnipotent moral busybodies. The robber baron's cruelty may sometimes sleep, his cupidity may at some point be satiated; but those who torment us for our own good will torment us without end for they do so with the approval of their own conscience.”
― C. S. Lewis
I remember reading something several years ago about the perils of activism - I wish I could find it again. It’s author warned that activism would be the next frontier for corruption and destruction and suggest that well-meaning people would be pawns for darker agendas. I initially scoffed at the idea, but it stuck with me. And I’ve seen evidence of the truth of it ever since.
Consider the insidiousness of it…
We are nudged into performative activism every day. Each time we are asked if we want to “help kids with cancer” or support families in war torn countries, we are being enlisted. And who DOESN’T want to help sick children and families in need? More pointedly, how could anyone say no to a question that is framed that way? And, once you agree that this is important, how can you not do MORE? (After all, there’s nothing worse than a slacktivist.)
Therein lies the manipulation.
It’s important to recognize that $cience has been working hard to gain access to our minds.
In her speech to the first students at the new University of Austin (UATX), Bari Weiss describes infiltration through a “revolution of ideas.”
The ideology that is trying to unseat liberalism in America begins by stipulating that the forces of justice and progress are in a war against backwardness and tyranny. And in a war, the normal rules of the game must be suspended. Indeed, this ideology would argue that those rules are not just obstacles to justice, but tools of oppression. They are the master’s tools. And the master’s tools cannot dismantle the master’s house.
So the tools themselves are not just replaced but repudiated.
Persuasion—the purpose of argument—is replaced with public shaming. Moral complexity is replaced with moral certainty. Facts are replaced with feelings. The rule of law is replaced with mob rule.
Ideas are replaced with identity. Forgiveness is replaced with punishment. Debate is replaced with disinvitation and de-platforming. Diversity is replaced with homogeneity of thought. Inclusion with exclusion. Excellence with equity.
In this ideology, disagreement is recast as trauma. So speech is violence. But violence, when carried out by the right people in pursuit of a just cause, is not violence at all—but in fact justice.
In this ideology, bullying is wrong, unless you are bullying the right people, in which case it’s very, very good. In this ideology, information that does comport with The Narrative is recast as disinformation, its proponents as conspiracy theorists. In this ideology, education is not about teaching people how to think, it’s about re-educating them in what to think. In this ideology the need to feel safe trumps the need to speak truthfully.
Under the new virtue paradigm, we are told that we CAN’T just get along. It’s our responsibility to stop the thought crimes happening all around us.
We’ve ALL become activists. We have to be. When “Silence is Violence” it’s the only way to be a decent human being. We are regularly asked to prove that we care enough. We are put on the spot in the absence of a clear understanding of complex issues. We are expected to conflate donating time or resources to Organization X with helping people in need. We are expected to embrace prevailing ideologies and trust the experts. And with each little donation, solidarity meme and bumper sticker, we risk trading principled beliefs for social currency.
Simultaneously, activism has become commoditized, commercialized and branded. We are all encouraged to stand up and raise our voices, but the conversation is framed, the narrative controlled. We may all be standing up, but only selected groups are elevated on platforms and seen. Some voices are amplified, while others are censored, or worse, maligned. Inconvenient voices are deemed harbingers of “misinformation” to justify censorship and cancelling.
How often do we dig beneath the altruistic surface to look into where the money actually goes? Or question the logic/data/science behind the various ideologies that we are asked to support? Scratch the surface and you discover that “help kids with cancer” often means “support pharmaceutical research”. Support it if you want, but consider how many ways you already pay for pharmaceutical products and ask yourself if this is the best way you can help kids with cancer.
How many people are willing to invest the time in that undertaking each time they’re asked to support a cause?
And even if we have the time, do we have access to all of the information? Recent events in Sri Lanka force us to revisit whether what’s “good” in theory translates to real world results.
Is it possible that we didn’t know enough about climate change and the solutions that were being proposed to fight to enforce them on entire countries, each with unique underlying circumstances? Could it be that some of the people we called “climate deniers” had valid concerns? And finally, is it fair to reduce everyone in the conversation to climate deniers and climate-change alarmists?
Surely, polarization is not the road to peace, love and understanding.
Capitalizling on Pandemic Fatigue
After more than two years of feeling like, in one way or another, we’re fighting for our lives - we’re all a bit traumatized, mistrusting, exhausted, depressed, angry, confused or all of the above. We have made big sacrifices that were minimized as “small asks.” We have been blindsided and deceived. We have witnessed varying degrees of corruption and are acutely aware of injustice. And we have suffered. We’re more inclined to see things from a lens of scarcity and distrust and, perhaps out of sheer exhaustion, to reduce complex issues to us vs. them or good vs. evil.
We are hungry for change and overwhelmed by the problems we face. And corporations, special interest groups, politicians and social media influencers are eager to harness our collective indignation. Even in the absence of overt corporate and political hijacking of virtue, we’re vulnerable when we’re this ravenous for answers.
To see how corruptible our altruism is, we can simply visit the philanthropy landscape, where globalist billionaires like Zuckerberg, Gates, Bezos and Schwab invest in our equitable solutions for the “greater good” of communities they like control from a safe and comfortable distance. These folks know how to grab us by the values and hold us captive.
Opening Our Eyes and Reclaiming Our Voices
As an activist with a fire in my belly, I am among the vulnerable and corruptible. So I think about this often.
I am learning that not everyone who shares my mission shares my values. And the people who stand in opposition to my goals are not necessarily enemies. Sometimes they’re my teachers, or the people who can bring nuance and perspective to an issue I need to understand more deeply. I notice that conflicts that arise within my advocacy communities are often about how to accomplish a shared goal.
I notice that good intentions are almost always the seeds of the activism, but the work forces us to interact with people and organizations that are corrupt or compromised. Our egos get triggered. Our values and our faith get tested. (Fauci-Gates-Schwab Derangement Syndrome looms.)
Activism forces us to examine what it means to be human. That spark that lit a fire in us is part of a powerful alchemical process that transforms our intentions into change. Working together, we can create new laws, impact elections and even shift cultural paradigms. But those changes will always reflect where our hearts and values were in the moments we fought for them. Ignited passion can be fiery and chaotic, and subsequently, difficult to contain. Throw in a little urgency, and things can easily become heated… inflammatory. Add social media and we’ve got ourselves a powder keg. A cytokine storm.
Doing the work means preparing for moments when we will confront our weaknesses, our rage, our insecurities and our self-righteousness. It means grounding into our principles and regularly revisiting our goals. It also means immersing ourselves in the human experience in meaningful ways. In the absence of connection and access to the full spectrum of human nature, we run the risk of blaming the ugliness in the world on humanity itself. That’s the kind of thinking that drives technocracy. In the spirit of healthy cultural immunity, can we channel “love they neighbor” instead of “defeat the enemy”?
It helps to look at the microcosm of our own bodies, because so much is reflected there. Too much rapid, unchecked growth is generally cancer. Chronic inflammation often leads to autoimmunity. Maybe going inward and being true to ourselves is how we can prevent having triggered responses to the chaotic external stimuli. Do we need step away from the screens and the heated conversations and chill out?
Mostly this is the cautionary tale that I need to hear. I’m sharing in case you need to hear it, too. For now, I’m going to take my own advice… stand barefoot in the grass somewhere and literally connect to my roots… and other roots. The trees are calling.
Yes! This is so thought provoking. ! What a beautiful voice you have. Thank you for your activism!!