I had some time recently to reflect on a little personality quirk of mine. Some people are passive by nature, others are outgoing or sociable. Me? I'm a rebellious punk. For most of my life, I've been questioning authority. I question what other's tell me and I question the nature of their authority. And as much as I will tell you that it's served me well (and it frequently has), there is problem being a Nietzschean poster child. After spending the last few years doing meditation and a ton of self reflection, I recently started reflecting on my attitudes towards American politics and was enlightened. In my past, I tended to be attracted to those folks who sounded like my inner monologue. I liked the people who punched back at the mainstream. I wouldn't do any deep dives into the political reality of policy, I only cared about the absolute morality that was pitched behind the ideas. This made me often angry at a great deal of things surrounding politics. I hated mainstream political parties for their failure to advance issues I saw as important. I'd have apathy to popular leaders and figureheads for being narrow-minded. I hated the system of think tanks, PACs, and deep pockets that seemed to leverage conversations away from the general public. And perhaps there is a lot of truth there that should justify some rage.
This year, I watched Bernie Sanders go down in flames. He was one of those guys that would normally appeal to my inner rebel. He talks like a guy that hates everything around him - something I can completely relate to. Yet, I have no real attachment to him or to his campaign. When I listen to his supporters, I hear the same anger in their voices that I had in decades past - one of righteous indignation forged through bitterness at the system they see as being a part of the problem rather than one that's part of a solution. When I read the harsh words of the so-called "Bernie Bros", I feel as if I'm looking into the murky reflection of my own past - the rebel who tapped into his rage to fight some greater good. These are the people who gleefully watch the world burn with the fantasy of helping rebuilding a better one. There is, however, a problem with these rage-filled ideologues. They are prone to making fallacious reasoning, perhaps more so than the middle of the road citizen who often gets accused of being a sellout and/or sheep by the rebel. I've seen myself buy into all kinds of ideas without going into any deep dives on how said policy would play out. I'd have verbal disputes with others where I'd call them tools (or worse) for not seeing the obvious wrong in there thinking.
I can't stress enough here that the problem here isn't whether my ideas were in fact right or wrong, rather its the fact that I let the "punching back" feeling of empowerment take the intellectual drivers wheel and let rationality take the back seat. The seething rage that would settle into my mind would stay there for long periods of time, and I would revel in it and try fueling the anger by playing loud angry music (thanks Nine Inch Nails and Public Enemy). Rather than my pragmatic mind driving decisions, emotions ruled the roost. In this political cycle were the Bernie Bros are accused of trolling Democrats, I see my prior emotionally-driven self reflected in all their punk asses. The desire to punch back at the people who they perceive as the root cause of why their issues are not addressed. And of course, the Russians LOVE these folks! They love them so much that they've literally spent millions building troll farms to exploit this unbridled rage. The problem with a mind driven my emotion, other than stress-related health issues, is that the very decisions can be exploited by those who have very clear agendas.
I'm reminded of the Star Trek take on emotions with the Vulcan race. The Vulcan's use the ceremony Kolinahr by which all remaining vestigial emotions were purged. This process helped the Vulcan race make logical and informed decisions and advance their society. The notion that emotions could be harmful to individuals and society is perhaps not so far fetched. It took me over 40 years to beat down my own rebellious nature, which had more to do with clinging to emotion than true policy issues. Over time, I started paying more attention to the goals and the time needed to accomplish them. I also started realizing something else: the process I was apt to criticizing is one that I spent very little time working in. The reality is that I could spend lots of time arguing a position yet spend hardly any energy doing the leg lifting on making real changes. That includes being active with others who have similar policy goals and talking to people who who most likely promote candidates and those who make policy outcomes. This, for all those paying attention, is the quintessential "Bernie Bro". I feel for them, and the on;y advice I can give them is to take the time to recenter their life on the internal-self first. Similar to the advice given by the stewardess before a flight, you have to learn to put the mask on yourself before you help others. We humans don't have a Kolinahr ceremony to help us control our own emotions, but we can do a great many things to help center out thinking. Yoga, meditation, journaling, blogging, all of these things can help us self-reflect and really help us sort out ideas before we go out fighting the man. Being in a place where your mind is forced to slow down and examine rather than acting on instinct lets you check our motivations and all the facts surrounding them. It doesn't guarantee good decisions, but it sure as hell does gives you more piece of mind.