King Solomon’s Judgment and the Feeding of the Trolls
Binary arguments are the crack cocaine of American social life. God help us all.
The American conversation has been reduced to strident binary voices that seek to bludgeon each other into submission. Our public square has been reduced to one long Punch and Judy show. This is the new normal, the preferred modus operandi, a long ugly slug fest while people die lonely tragic deaths in Puerto Rico, California, Charlottesville and various parts unknown.
America the beautiful is eating its own entrails like something from a Hannibal movie.
We are all being teased into a state of toxic rage by bots and AI’s from half a world away. And believe me, if you think its bad now, wait till the next gen Russian AI’s start up, whispering to us from our Amazon Echos about how our neighbors need to fucking die. And we’ll lap that shit up because we like that sort of thing. We like to hate each other. We like to hate Americans.
When there isn’t a single soul left in America who remembers how to have a conversation that doesn’t decline into a troll’s wet dream, we’ll just turn off the lights and pull the door to. The Republic will be done. And we won’t even have to vote about it. (Thank God for small mercies.)
By all accounts, we’re just about there.
Or, perhaps at this late hour, we can instead open our Old Testaments and give a moment’s thought to the baby and the sword story. It contains an arguably passé but non-the-less applicable lesson regarding what people do out of compassion vs. contempt.
Wikipedia has this to say about the Judgment of King Solomon.
In the Judgment of Solomon, two women came before Solomon to resolve a quarrel over which was the true mother of a baby. When Solomon suggested they should divide the living child in two with a sword, one woman said she would rather give up the child than see it killed. Solomon then declared the woman who showed compassion to be the true mother, and gave the baby to her.
I’m always a bit shocked at how this Biblical scene is depicted. Typically the baby is hanging upside down by one leg with a sword perilously close by. None the less, the dangling baby is a pretty effective metaphor for what happens when people fight over something they think they hold to be precious. Like, you know…America.
For me, more specifically, the baby represents the dead art of political conversation. The redemptive process by which we hear each other’s stories and connect across difference.
The Judgment of Solomon contains a lesson for anyone who is in a conversation, dialogue, discussion, disagreement, or an argument: personal, political, religious or otherwise. To fully experience the redemptive power of conversation, requires we be mindful. We have to see conversations as something we are creating in partnership with others. We have to value the generative power that conversation and storytelling holds. The goal of intentionally co-creating something entirely new has to matter to us.
Instead, our society has fallen prey to an epidemic of alienation and isolation. We have lost the knack for connecting and co-creating new stories. Something fundamental is broken, but the way to heal our broken social contract is to return to sharing our stories. Which is something we are hungry for. Its something we are hard-wired to enjoy.
Stories and conversations are relational. They are always created by more than one person. As such, they are the stuff of dreams. They can be magical. They can be poweful and generative. Conversations are the way in which human beings evolve their thinking while also forming more authentic, meaningful relationships. Relationships, in turn, fulfill a deep seated social need for human beings that directly influences our health and well being. They are the cosmic glue that keeps society from descending into chaos. They are what heals us and helps us grow.
Anyway, back to the baby.
The baby in the Judgment of Solomon represents the creative and connecting power of conversations, be they conversations about everyday matters or the most challenging issues. The subject can be baseball or the weather but sometimes it can be something much more volatile, like social justice, a relationship struggle, or a political disagreement, whatever you like. And here’s where it gets pretty straightforward. If you only care about your half of an argument, if you only care about your half of the baby, then the baby is going to get torn in half. And all the gifts that listening to each other brings will fail to materialize.
We didn’t get here by accident. Throughout American history, the political powers that be, in partnership with activist media, have trained millions of us all into binary mindsets. Its nothing new, but lately we’ve really fallen for it. Those who drink most deeply of this binary poison include White Nationalists and other violent extremists. Those folks represent a bridge too far. There is no way to overcome the differences with them.
For many of us, violent extremists are the reason we arrived at our own binary positions. We got here in direct reaction to wholesale violence against people of color, LGBTQ people, women and more. Its been a litany of binary inducing traumas. So yes, we will all continue to have our moral absolutes.
But there are moral absolutes different from our own, that others hold just as dearly as we hold ours. If we lump those people all into an extremist camp, make them all guilty by association, we are doing the extremists’ work for them. In our anger and rage, we are cutting the baby in half.
And it is in this moment that we all step closer to the collective precipice.
We’ve become so reactive, we no longer know how to bridge even minor differences. We can’t manage debate or disagreement even among allies, much less across major divisions. We have collectively forgotten how to take joy in each other as members of a shared national community. We’re deeply weary of each other; waiting to get clubbed over the head with more ideology, more judgement. And some of that’s coming from our own friends. People we have known for years, sometimes for decades, are suddenly tossing the relationship aside and coming at us as if we are to be sternly corrected.
Dr. Kenneth Gergen of the Taos Institute puts it this way.
“Its not the care of individuals that counts the most. Its the care of relationships.”
The binary debates that plague us are the reason we have seemingly stalled or are even moving backwards on a wide range of political and social issues. The only path forward is to reject the angry ideological trench warfare that often defines public discourses, even as extremists on the left and right seek to inflame the situation more. Solomon recognized extremism in the voice of a mother who would rather kill a baby than give it up. We can learn to recognize that madness, too.
The future of us all is inexorably interlinked. We will all move forward together or we will all fail, together. To engage in hateful binary ways with those with whom we disagree is to attack ourselves, our children and our futures.
Put simply, we need a meta intention, a spiritual awakening based on a simple but actionable idea. In internet speak, it is stated simply as “Don’t feed the trolls.” It means resist the urge to match hate with hate. Do not give way to rage and anger. To do so, serves only to benefit those who seek to sow division. There is ample hate already. The trolls are everywhere. Namely, because whenever the anger and frustration becomes too much, we join their ranks.
We must instead apply the wisdom of Solomon to the voices in our selves and those around us. Are we trying to kill relationships or are we trying to grow them? Are we listening to confirm our judgments or are we listening for threads of our common humanity?
We know where we disagree. Where do we agree?
It’s time to start thinking about how we view and care for relationships. Even our relationships with strangers. Even our relationships with divisive voices. Its no accident that the primary goal of Russian ads on Facebook was to incite polarizing arguments. They understand the power of binary arguments to destabilize societies and incite violence.
Our collective survival depends on being in relationship with each other. For the moment, our individual health and peace of mind is at risk. If we don’t pull it together, Armageddon becomes a real possibility
We all have to be politically active persons. This I do not dispute. But we can also hold the both/and; that we are also social animals who can choose to bridge difference and find common ground. Civility can creep back in.
How exactly do I define doing this? We must begin to actively filter for those who are within the realm of possible connection and co-operation. We canno long afford ideological purity tests or absolute political alignment.
And its not simply of case of the perfect being the enemy of the good. When we demand complete ideological alignment of our fellow citizens, we attack the social glue which allows society to operate across differences. It is an arrogant act of ego and it should trigger deep self reflection.
Whether our baseline is social justice or Second Amendment rights, we must also be mindful of our larger relational responsibilities. We have a responsibility to be social, to coordinate across difference, so our children can grow up in safe vibrant communities. We have a responsibility to knit together our social world, not shred it for clicks and likes.
I’m not saying anyone should accept trolling or abuse in order to make peace. What I am saying is we need to be intentionally filtering for connection, forming our own instances of bridging across difference, forming a wealth of relationships, shown in innumerable studies to be the key to a long healthy fulfilling life. Relationships are our single most important resource in times of personal or national calamity. And relationships across political differences are the glue that will hold our society together.
Dr. Niobe Way, Professor of Applied Psychology at New York University has this to say about American culture:
Neuroscience and all sorts of evolutionary anthropology confirm that we are born naturally relational human beings. Charles Darwin even said the reason why we thrived as a species was because of our social nature.
Our problem is we live in a culture that defines not only manhood but also maturity in ways that actually disconnect us from our relationships.
Its actually a culture clashing with nature.
Social isolation driven in part by a perfect storm of contemptuous binary debates is at the heart of epidemic levels of illness, addiction, and violence in America. As Americans, we have a choice. We can define each other based on the binary rantings of our cable TV realities or we can step up and show some real courage.
We can stop falling prey to the ugly divisive coaxing from those powers that profit from our division and we can instead choose to connect. We can choose to be in communication about to coordinate around our differences instead of condemning each other.
It took a long time to get here and it will take a long time to get to a better place. But we have to start now. So, think of Solomon’s Judgment and commit to this: make a pledge to stop matching hate with hate, don’t sew more binary division, don’t feed the trolls.
Instead, every day, find a way to make a bridge somewhere in your world and seek some connection.
Our collective survival depends on it.
Read more by Mark Greene:
Why Do We Murder the Beautiful Friendships of Boys?
Follow Mark Greene on Twitter: Follow @RemakingManhood