THE BLOG

We Have Found the Enemy

09/26/2012 02:46 pm ET | Updated Nov 09, 2012

I swore I would never write about politics. It's like one of those creepy wormholes with a toothy venus-flytrappy monster waiting at the end to rip you to shreds. Scares the shit out of me. And pisses me off.

But people out there really suck these days, and I want to blame some sort of politics for the loss of civility in our national discourse. Can I? Please?

For the sake of argument, let's say that the upcoming political election has made us all rude, nasty and heartless. So we pick an emotional position, paint ourselves a primary color and thrash anyone who disagrees with us. It's the "crime of passion" gambit. But remember when issues mattered more than talking points? Or when a difference of opinion was debated between rational humans leveraging well-reasoned facts? Yeah, I don't either. We're not getting chippy with each other because of what's happening on Nov 6th. There's gotta be something else going on.

It's also easy to blame the politics of the media for all the inflammatory rhetoric and spin that encourages our bad behavior. Let's be honest -- it's a stretch to call the news anything more than sponsored sound bites these days, prioritized by money and ratings. And there's an undeniable impact on society when its leaders opinions are represented in the aggregate depending on the source of the news. But I don't think this is the only reason we're in trouble. When I watch smart, sophisticated and otherwise eloquent people (onscreen and off) reduced to name-calling bullies and blusterers, I have to believe we're responding to a deeper societal wound.

Then what about the politics of sex? That must be the problem. We're having sex but demanding contraception to prevent the progeny we should all be thrilled to produce, regardless of circumstance. We're defending ourselves when sex is used as weapon of control or as rationale for violence. Or we are marrying someone of the same gender (after having depraved sex with them, of course), thereby weakening the very fabric of society with our blithely heathen behavior. While it's tempting to blame our fear of and anger for one another on sex, it's just too easy. We need to dig deeper.

That brings us to the politics of religion. It's been a prime source for hatred throughout history, so why not continue the narrative. I'm a Jew. My friend is a Christian. Their neighbor is a Muslim. Let's all kill each other because we believe in a different god. Better yet, let's forget that every single faith preaches tolerance as a tool to save the world, rather than destroy it. While I'm horrified at the amount of damage done in the name of God, it's not the only source of our disconnect.

So then, what reason is left to explain the stunning and often-deadly lack of respect we have for one another? I'd hate to think that Depeche Mode had it nailed in 1984, but we've yet to solve their riddle 28 years later: "People are people so why should it be that you and I should get along so awfully?"

Let's call it the politics of The Other. We hate the different. We fear that it could steal our soul if we let our guard down for a second. That it could grow into something larger than ourselves if we don't kill it first. Or worse, that we could learn something new from it, thereby diminishing the strength of our deeply felt crowdsourced and homogenized convictions. But where does this all come from?

John Paul Sartre was only half right when he wrote, "Hell is other people." The truth is that we don't fear The Others half as much as we fear ourselves. If we can't trust or believe in who we are first, we will become the very enemy we seek to destroy. There hasn't been this level of confrontational rhetoric in America since the civil war. If unchecked, how tragic would it be if red vs blue became the new blue vs gray? Talk about No Exit.