On Saturday, June 1, as part of the reunion of Occupy Wall Street, there was a solidarity demonstration for the Occupy Movement in Turkey. The demonstration was in response to the police brutality being exercised on those in the Occupy Movement. The demonstration itself, held in Zuccotti Park, sounded more like a European soccer stadium with the chants and singing than a protest. There were neither speeches nor marches, there was just an endless singing and chanting. And it was all in Turkish.
It was not difficult for anybody to recognize that, in one sense, I was out of my element there. I didn't know a word that was being said and I had to ask what was being said out of curiosity. This prompted two supporters to ask why I was there. The answer was rather simple. I was there because regardless of our own nationality, we need to stick up for each other against the tyranny of those with wealth and power. This solidarity is our only defense. Both questioners liked my answer because its truth was obvious.
If we were to check the Occupy Movement around the world, we would find a consensus regarding the identity of the troublemakers who are threatening the rest of the world. Like those identified as belonging to the current terrorist threat, these rogue operators are not confined within the borders of any nation-state. And all too often, our antagonists have been well trained to blend in as the leaders of society. Thus, what we are seeing is many, but not all, of our elected officials and financial leaders around the world exploit and repress the rest of us. We should note that, historically, exploitation and repression go together like love and marriage.
If the people who are abusing us are no longer confined within the borders of any state, then it would be foolish of us to rely on the old institution of nationalism. With nationalism, the primary group we would first rely on for help is our own nation. But since many of our public and private sector leaders are against us, such reliance is self-sabotaging.
We could, as some on the Left have suggested, organize around economic class and depend on these groups for help. There is a problem here in that we might win but, in the end, the more we identify with groups based on economic class, the greater the danger that we will become like our enemies. This is because we will resort to the same tribalism that our opponents rely on. That is we will be so concerned with winning and the welfare of those in our group that we will embrace moral relativity. And that fondness for moral relativity can turn inward so that how we treat others outside our own group eventually becomes how we treat each other. In addition, we might win in changing the major players of a system but we will not have changed the system. We could add that when we draw our borders around an economic class, our borders become hard and rigid. These kinds of borders prevent people from changing.
So if nationality or economic class should not be our primary groups, what should they be? I would suggest organizing around an identity given to those of us Jews, Muslims, and Christians, who were protesting outside of the Israeli consulate in D.C. against the Occupation. The person organizing the protest called us "people of conscience." And he said that because we showed solidarity with those from another group. Thus, we showed that our prime allegiance was to morals and principles rather than to an ethnicity. Indeed, the first and last line of defense that we have against wealth and power is the solidarity shown by those who have no reason to be concerned about others except that there is suffering and injustice. And here, numbers are crucial. If we can assemble enough people of conscience, we can defend each other without becoming like our oppressors.
The advantage of bonding around morals and principles rather than ethnicity or economic class is that we will escape the terminal king of the hill battle that tribalism produces. However, we are not guaranteed security, we are just kept from hurting others. And the more of us there are, then the more security we can experience as well.
Another advantage over making our primary allegiance based on conscience is that the borders surrounding our group allow for immigration. Anyone can join us who will put a good conscience first. When we are confined by the borders of nationality or class, we become embroiled in a fight to the death. We must conquer to survive let alone win. But when morals and principles determine our borders, we seek to win people over so that the more the merrier.
There can be high costs to making your first loyalty to morals and principles over nationality or economic class. First, you can become alienated within your own family, friends, workplace, place of worship, community, and so on. That is because for most of us, tribalism reigns. Tribalism is when group loyalty becomes so high that absolute values begin to disappear. And where tribalism reigns in the world around you, being a person of conscience can invite scorn, persecution, imprisonment, and even death. For example, imagine being a Palestinian who protests the killing of innocent Israelis or being an Israeli who protests the wanton killing of Palestinian innocents by your own troops.
A second cost is that you might make significant sacrifices for those who are too remote to recognize and show appreciation for your efforts. Being a person of conscience can be a thankless job.
But the payoff is not just doing what is right and breaking the cycle and chain of violence, it is becoming a part of a much larger group than any tribe we can belong to. For while tribalism revolves around conformity, uniting around absolute values immerses us into a world of diversity much I like was experiencing at the solidarity rally for the Occupy Movement in Turkey. It certainly wasn't my first experience where I was the foreigner who understood little to nothing of what was being said. But standing up for those who are from a different group brings a bond that is sweeter than that which comes from patriotism.
There is a danger when we organize by conscience. That danger is that we become self-righteous and look down on those we are resisting. Such an attitude forgets that though we try to put conscience first, we have all too often failed and thus need forgiveness. In addition, such an attitude builds a separation wall that prevents people from the other side from crossing the border based on morals and principles to visit.
Sure, we can seek security in tribalism. And if we pick the right tribe, we will be safe but only for a while. Our hope then would be to pass away before our own tribe loses its position. And in the meantime, we would have contributed the ever growing destruction that tribalism brings. This contribution is one that our children and grandchildren will experience more than we will.
However, if we make our first allegiance to absolute values and morals and our primary group is with people of conscience, we might be sacrificed but at least we will be a part of the only group that is working to make life better, though not perfect And when we hold to absolute values first, we will be safe from practicing the oppression and evil that we are protesting. And who knows, if we get enough people on our side, we might be able to make a small contribution to lives of our loved ones who come after us.