October 14, 2022
Sometimes it feels like we're living in an absurdist novel. "And if all others accepted the lie which the Party imposed—if all records told the same tale—then the lie passed into history and became truth." (Yep, that's Orwell.) Many today declare lies to be truth. And it's entirely possible that they're succeeding. "I can declassify documents with my mind" is literally absurd, and yet here we are.
Also absurd is the claim that "antifa" was responsible for the January 6 insurrection, when evidence makes abundantly clear that the Capitol was stormed by supporters of the former President and he knew he'd lost. What really worries me is that people who accept "The Big Lie" may be unswayable by evidence, and many of them are avowed Christian nationalists. (That's never good news for us.)
There's a tactic used by domestic abusers known as DARVO: Deny, Accuse, Reverse Victim and Offender. (The term was coined by professor Jennifer J. Freyd.) It feels like an apt description for a lot of what's happening the public sphere lately. Did it begin with the reversal of, "No, you're the puppet"? I'm not the first person to make this comparison, but I've been really struck by it lately.
There is an abusive-bully quality to so many of today's interrelated abuses of power. There's an abusive-bully quality to the authoritarian disdain for diversity. There's an abusive-bully quality to the love of power -- after all, when you're a star, you can do anything to people who have less power than you. And when that's how you treat the disempowered, it makes sense to be afraid of losing power.
Sometimes I wonder how worried we should be that the party of election deniers really admires Viktor Orbán. Orbán proudly champions Christian nationalism. Under his rule, Hungary is no longer a democracy. Authoritarian, nativist, homophobic, wants white Christian men to rule -- how awful and regressive. I tell myself that won't happen here. But it may already be happening here.
What does any of this have to do with Judaism, I imagine you asking. Why are you writing about this, rabbi? Because in naming what is, there is agency. Because the only response I can bear is to double down on our values: truth (there's no such thing as alternative facts), diversity and inclusion, care for others (especially for those in need), equity and justice. Even, or especially, if everything falls apart.
I found the image that accompanies this post via a beautiful essay at On Being: The Absurd Courage of Choosing to Live. The image is by Olivier Otelpa, and the essay by Jennifer Michael Hecht is worth reading.