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Sabotage: Part 11 - Reconciliation and Solidarity
The fourth sabotage is sabotage of repentance with oppression, appeased by comfortable people offering oppressors reconciliation without reparation. The big question is: how do we counter it?
Note: this essay was originally published on Revue on October 30, 2022.
It’s been another week, and a whole lot has happened, and a whole lot has happened, and unfortunately a whole lot has happened.
Paul Pelosi got attacked by a hammer-wielding maniac in his own home. It was an assassination attempt inspired by mainstream Republicans.
Let’s start there.
Nancy Pelosi’s attacker was chanting “where’s Nancy,” which is what the January 6 mob was chanting as they invaded the U.S. Capitol. In case you forgot, January 6, 2021 was the last time the Republican Party tried to assassinate the sitting Speaker of the House (as well as the sitting Vice President, and many others). I say “the Republican Party tried” because the mob was sent by the leader of their party, Donald Trump, who was at that time President, and the Republican Party has worked tirelessly and shamelessly ever since in defense of that mob, and the leader who incited them, and the members of Congress who provided them material and strategic aid, and in pursuit of that mob’s cause—which is the abolition of our democracy, the installation of a supremacist authoritarian theocracy, as well as the implicit threat of the prosecution or murder of the Democratic leadership, which they love to chant about in their rallies, and so forth.
Anyway, the guy with the hammer didn’t kill Paul Pelosi or Nancy Pelosi. But it was an assassination attempt by the Republican Party all the same. We’ve learned from his 15 years of blogging that the assassin’s mind had been packed with standard components of modern conservative belief: Holocaust denial, climate change denial, transphobia, racism, voter fraud theories, screeds against “pedos,” and other things, none of which distinguish him in any way from mainstream Republican candidates and office holders, or from messages now emitting from the Republican propaganda arm of far-right media figures spread across many and various platforms and channels.
And what happens in times like these, when the obviousness of what the Republican Party is becomes inescapable, is that the Republican Party and its propaganda wing does everything they can do to establish that the culprit is of some other ideology separate from theirs, and make it clear that this attack had nothing at all to do with them, and that the culprit acted completely on his own, and what they expect is for the Democratic Party to build bridges to them, members of the Republican Party, who are the very people who have made this political violence not only likely, but inevitable.
It’s a demand that we not know all the things they’ve done to deliberately create an atmosphere of rage and political violence and a list of political targets for that rage.
It’s a demand that we not understand the clear intent that is communicated by all these things they’ve done.
It’s a demand that we fail to observe the clearly observable fact that the brokenness causing each instance of the problem exists specifically because the Republican Party opposes any cost of any repair or improvement.
It’s a demand from people disinterested in making friends that we make friends with them. It’s a demand from those who divide us to come together. It’s a command to unify with people who scorn unity. It’s a demand for peace with those who wage war.
It is a demand for reconciliation without reparation.
It remains to be seen to what degree the rest of our media will pick up and promote that demand in response to this latest infraction, or the extent to which public sentiment will accept it, but if the January 6 insurrection and hundreds of other infractions are any indication, the answers will be “to a great degree” and “to an overwhelming extent.” I don’t see Republicans framed very often as what they have clearly revealed themselves to be—which is an insurrectionist party and a hate group, seeking the overthrow of democracy to install a corrupt autocratic theocracy on behalf of supremacists. To do so would break journalistic neutrality, which has clearly become a more important principle than journalistic commitment to expressing the truth. And I still meet people everywhere who consider Republicans a reasonable option to serve as leaders that reasonable people might choose and still be thought of as reasonable, instead of what they are—which is a national suicide pill unhinged from reality and eager to make even more atrocities even more inevitable.
And sure enough, there seems a very good chance that they will be empowered to do that, by an activated supremacist minority and a complacent middle, using voter suppression and outright intimidation and malfeasance and structural imbalances they’ve leveraged even further to their benefit.
If that happens, I expect to see what happens every time supremacists come to power. I expect to see voices elevated that instruct us to ignore everything about what supremacy intends to do and is already doing, and to focus on understanding of the supremacist perspective and easing supremacist discomfort, which happens to be a discomfort with the existence of other people, other people under threat of supremacist violence, whose perspectives we will not be encouraged to understand and whose comfort we will not be expected to ease. I expect to hear that the supremacist victory should serve as a rebuke to those seeking equality, that their demands went too far.
And if they lose these elections they are predicted to win? I expect to see the exact same thing: narratives centering supremacists and their distress and alienation, warning us against going too far, against leaving them behind, against painting them with a broad brush, against condemning them and writing them off, against leaving them with no path back to reconciliation. I expect to see what we always see: a frame that casts the comfort or discomfort of supremacists as the central priority, and validating the threat of their retaliation if we do not.
After all, I expect to be told, what are we to do? If we oppose them, it will just cause more violence.
Anyway, am I saying they’re all evil and should just be abandoned?
There are tens of millions of them!
Where is the room for redemption?
Whew. Hold that thought.
What else should we think about? Oh! I know!
There was a report that came out that showed that young men were having less and less sex. A couple weeks ago somebody became the Twitter main character by suggesting among other things that we needed to consider a “right to sex” for these young men.
And so this person got a whole lot of criticism, and then that criticism got a lot of pushback, and it all went along the same lines as the discourse always goes whenever the topic turns to that segment of young men who feel entitled to the bodies of what they think of as “high quality” women, which always seems to rotate back to the idea that frustrated young men are dangerous and easily manipulated by extremists, so their needs must be addressed on something approaching their terms, or we will reap the consequences of refusing to accommodate their beliefs.
After all, what are we supposed to do?
Are we to abandon them to a world optimized to their loneliness?
Are we just going to write them off?
Have we no sympathy?
Whew. Hold that thought.
Also there have been many many shootings, and we don’t really even react to them anymore; they’ve become almost like weather. It seems we have agreed that they are inherently inevitable. It seems we have agreed to not know who is deliberately making them inevitable.
Oh and Elon Musk executed a leveraged buyout of Twitter, because he said he wanted to open it up to what he calls “free speech.” To do this he used money from the Saudi regime—a regime that recently dismembered a journalist. Use of a racial slur beginning with “n” immediately spiked—a result which almost seemed inevitable to those of us who understood what people like Musk mean when they say “free speech.”
But this is a series about repair, and sabotage of repair.
We’re deep into this series by now. Links at the top if you need to place yourself. Otherwise, a quick recap:
Most of us want to see what is broken get fixed, yet repair seems far from us. I propose it’s because the sequential progressive process of repair—awareness, conviction, confession, repentance, repair—has been sabotaged by a blameless supremacy that refuses to pay any of the natural costs of maintenance, improvement, and repair, or to accept any blame for refusing to make these improvements or repairs, or any blame for choosing instead to profit from making everybody else pay the much higher unnatural costs of brokenness.
Awakening to awareness, sabotaged by deliberate ignorance.
Conviction that what is broken ought to be fixed, sabotaged by an ignorant complacency.
Confession of new awareness and new conviction, sabotaged by an ignorant and complacent denial.
Last time we got into the sabotage of our repentance—that is, a movement towards being people who are aligned with paying the natural costs of repair, and a movement away from being people who profit from brokenness by making others pay the higher costs of brokenness.
As I perceive it, each sabotage is accommodated by its own enablement.
Ignorance, accommodated by incurious neutrality.
Conviction, accommodated by valueless compromise.
Denial, accommodated by self-serving exoneration.
The enablement of the fourth sabotage—the sabotage of our repentance with oppression—is something I’d name reconciliation—specifically, reconciliation without reparation.
We can see reconciliation without reparation everywhere, if we look for it.
It’s worth thinking about how reconciliation works in a society founded in blameless supremacy.
I’d like you to notice something now about the entablements I’ve discussed already: neutrality and compromise and exoneration.
They aren’t inherently bad things. They are tools, which all have appropriate and necessary uses.
People of bad intent, being inherently abusive, are skilled at using potentially good things as justification for their bad ends. They do this by fouling the progressive order of repair; by demanding each tool be deployed before it would be appropriate. They demand the fruits of repair while refusing to plant repair’s seeds.
Neutrality, for example, can be an important component of a mind that has made itself open to new ideas and experiences, which lead to cycles of deeper growth and awareness and improvement and discovery.
Neutrality can be very important, in fact. It’s only when it is removed from the process of repair that it becomes an enablement. It’s only when it’s used out of order that it becomes toxic. Any neutrality maintained before first becoming aware of brokenness or before bearing witness to what is actually happening, any neutrality maintained before first deciding that broken things must be fixed and establishing a rugged hopeful expectation that they will be fixed, is neutrality designed to stagnate the process of repair, because it refuses to distinguish between what is and what is not, or to contemplate what should be.
Neutrality must come after awareness and conviction, not before.
Once you know this, you can easily detect people who are aligned with blameless supremacy, because they will demand neutrality only if it comes before awareness and conviction, only if neutrality is sure to sabotage repair, allowing them to avoid paying the natural costs of awareness and conviction.
Compromise, too, can be an important component of an open mind negotiating between various perspectives all attempting to repair the same complex problem, which allows us to use our diversity of perspective to find the very best solution to vexing problems.
Compromise can be very important. It’s only when it is removed from the process of repair that it becomes enablement; only when it’s used out of order that it becomes toxic. Any compromise made before establishing a public understanding—that a broken thing is in fact broken and that the only valid options for discussion must involve repair—is a compromise designed to stagnate repair, because it refuses to consider the end toward which compromise is being deployed.
Compromise must come after confession, not before.
Once you know this, you can easily detect people who are aligned with blameless supremacy, because they will demand compromise only if it comes before an mutual understanding of what the problem is and a mutual determination to solve it, allowing them to avoid paying the natural costs that attend confession.
And even the urge to exonerate can be an important process of repair; useful for recognizing and celebrating growth and positive movement, for perceiving when somebody who had been aligned with profiting from brokenness begins to enter awareness, and to be convicted, and actually change the ways they talk and think and the things they support. That exonerative urge is necessary, if we are to recognize the ways that somebody has changed for the better, if we are to celebrate positive movement and encourage further positive movement.
So the exonerative urge can be very important. It’s only when it is removed from the process of repair that it becomes enablement; only when it’s used out of order that it becomes toxic. Any exoneration offered before its beneficiary actually changes for the better—aligns toward repairing broken things, agrees to pay the natural costs of repair, and starts to pay them—is an exoneration designed to stagnate repair, because it only confesses a desire to repair, but remains aligned with brokenness.
Exoneration must come after repentance, not before.
Once you know this, you can easily detect people who are aligned with blameless supremacy, because they will demand exoneration for participating in the problem while still opposing any solution, allowing them to avoid paying the natural costs that come with repentance.
So it is, too, with reconciliation.
Let’s examine what reconciliation looks like when it is put in its right place as a part of a system aligned to repair.
If somebody abuses somebody else, and somebody else enables that abuse, then the relationship—between the abused party on one hand and the abusers and enablers on the other—has been broken by the abuse and the enablement, and the abused party has experienced the harmful effects of abuse.
But the abused party is not the only person harmed by abuse. The abuser is broken by their own abuse, and the enabler is broken by their enablement of it. They are broken inside themselves, by aligning themselves inherently with supremacy.
Their responsibility is not to repair the relationship they have broken.
Their responsibility is to repair the brokenness within themselves, which includes accepting that the damage caused by the abuse means they may not achieve reconciliation, and that reconciliation is not a matter they get to decide.
How does a supremacist repair the brokenness within themselves? The same way anything else is repaired: the process is the same as it is for broken roads or broken systems or anything else: awakening, then conviction, then confession, then repentance, and then finally repair.
If the abuser acknowledges the abuse, and the enabler acknowledges the enablement, and both realize they are to blame, and then speak that knowledge and realization, and then change their behavior so that they no longer engage in abuse and enablement, then the brokenness within them has been repaired, because they are no longer aligned with blameless supremacy. Then and only then, the relationship might be repaired, and then only if the abused party desires it.
And if the abused party does desire it, and engages that repair by joining with the abuser and the enabler in a new relationship free of brokenness, that is reconciliation within a healthy framework of repair.
But if the abused party doesn’t desire reconciliation, and the abuser refuses to accept that decision, but instead uses this rejection as a reason to return to abuse, and demands the enabler forgive them for the abuse, and uses their abuse to force the abused party to reconcile with them anyway, and if the enabler extends that reconciliation to them, forgiving them on behalf of the abused party, then there has been no repair, because the abuser and the enabler never truly abandoned their supremacy, or repaired the brokenness inside themselves.
Get it? The abuser doesn’t get to dictate the repair of the relationship they have broken, and the enabler doesn’t get to decide that the reconciliation should happen or has already happened. Abusers and enablers only get to align themselves with repair of their own brokenness, which means rejecting a supremacy that would demand they receive those things from victims without doing any reconciling work.
We don’t see much of that these days.
What we see is reconciliation before reparation.
It’s a demand.
A demand that their threats to accelerate abuse if they don’t receive reconciliation are a valid and understandable reaction. A demand that their good qualities be submitted as proof that they cannot possibly in any way support anything bad. A demand for the enforcement of a simple binary, whereby any attempt to acknowledge the reality of what they support be framed not as a call to improve, but as an oppressive and unjust condemnation of their selves.
It’s a demand for neutrality and compromise and exoneration and reconciliation in the face of ignorance and complacency and denial and oppression.
When this demand is validated, it creates appeasement of abuse—the very lifeblood of oppression.
Appeasement is the suggestion that some submissive posture exists, which marginalized people can take toward blameless supremacists, that would be deferential enough to preclude or at least blunt supremacy’s promised oppression. It’s a suggestion that almost always involves abandoning some group that is the subject of particularly violent aggression, almost always offered on behalf of all other groups that might otherwise be subject to that aggression as well, almost always offered by a person who is not a member of any of the targeted groups, and almost always framed as strategy.
What does appeasement suggest we give up?
It’s never a what, actually. It’s always a who.
And the who is usually whoever is being targeted for particular oppression at the moment.
Appeasement gives up the entire game, by looking at oppression and agreeing with its premises: that some people belong and other people don’t; that governance must be a matter of determining who is deserving and excluding those who aren’t; that the deserving people are the only people whose opinion must be courted; that oppression is inherently justified and results in order and comfort, while the request for justice is inherently presumptuous and causes disruption and discomfort; that bigotry must be considered a protected class in identity politics; that the real division caused by bigotry is not the supremacist’s bigotry but the discomfort that the target of that bigotry makes the bigot feel, simply by existing.
In response to oppression, appeasement offers up a nesting doll of ostensibly strategic capitulations, an endless series of retreats in search of an opportunity to advance that never arrives—because appeasement always prioritizes the convenience of those who oppose progress over the existence or survival of those who require progress. Appeasement always claim to want to abandon certain issues to achieve certain other ones, and what they always mean is abandoning other people—and any other people will do, which means that eventually all other people will do.
Appeasement will offer up trans people in order to get the votes of people who “will never accept” trans people, so that we can protect, oh, let’s say, gay marriage.
But appeasement will just as easily offer up gay marriage rights in order to get the votes of people who “will never accept” gay marriage, so we can, oh, let’s say, safeguard the vote.
But the same practitioners of appeasement will just as readily offer up voting rights in order to get the votes of people who “have legitimate concerns about voting security” in order to, oh, let’s say, protect a woman’s right to abortion.
But appeasement’s practitioners will just as readily make alliances with forced birth anti-choicers, in order to, oh, let’s say, protect trans people from oppressive anti-trans laws.
Appeasement seems to never notice that people whose favor they intend to curry are always on the verge of providing support that they never quite provide, because there is always some issue that makes them too uncomfortable, and that they will always make their own comfort paramount; and so their support for justice will always stay contingent on safeguarding some other injustice.
And round and round we go.
Appeasement claims to be aligned in favor of repair, but never actually aligns with it. Appeasement always speaks in favor of justice, yet is always courting the support of people who are made uncomfortable with some aspect of justice, and making their discomfort the problem to be solved before the problem of injustice. Appeasement always speaks in favor of those who most suffer injustice’s effects, yet always scolds those people for making the demand for justice too troublesome to ensure the comfort of those made uncomfortable by justice’s demands.
It teaches oppressors that people will abandon the effort for justice if it turns into a fight, and thus it incentivizes oppressors to turn any attempt for justice into a fight.
It teaches oppressors that their fight for blameless supremacy will always be treated as valid and reasonable, and teaches those they oppress that their fight against blameless supremacy will always be expected to achieve unity with supremacists by perpetually holding supremacy blameless for the motivations and objectives revealed by its results.
It teaches people struggling under oppression that they will be abandoned, and so encourages them to give up on their convictions.
It teaches bullies who want to avoid the cost of a fight that there exists no appetite to fight them.
Appeasement of abuse encourages abuse. No—it’s even worse than that. Appeasement of abuse incentivizes abuse. It makes the cost of abuse low. It accepts the offer of surrender on behalf of other people, who have not agreed to surrender, or who will never be given that offer.
You’ll know that repentance toward repair has been sabotaged, because you’ll find that even very fine people who seem to agree with progressive motion toward repair begin to accept a blameless society’s framing: that the way to achieve justice is to run from it, apologize for it, ask for change around the margins of the picture without ever changing the picture itself, without ever thinking to move the frame.
Supremacists sabotage our repentance by trying to prevent it if they can with suppression—ignorance, complacency, denial—and if they cannot suppress it, to try to strangle it with oppression—to make the very act of aligning toward repair a punishable act.
But the accommodation is the supremacy, and our reconciliation with oppressors is the accommodation that makes oppression successful.
Once we’ve agreed to occupy the frame of the blameless society, we remain inside their picture. We never take the journey our compasses have set, because we have opted not to oppose things that must be opposed; decided to not even know that opposition is needed.
So now I want to answer the big question, which is what do we do about it?
I want to talk about solidarity.
I wrote about solidarity before now. You can read the whole thing here, but there’s a quote I’d like to pull from that earlier piece.
Yes, and what do we mean when we say “we’ve never been so polarized,” anyway? What if instead we said “It’s been a long time since the reality of injustice has been made so unavoidably present to otherwise comfortable people”? What if instead we said “Its been a long time since so many people have become so violently resentful of the moral demands of justice”?
…for many people, I suspect the increase in [political] strife isn’t experienced as polarization at all, but solidarity.
Am I saying we’re not polarized? Far from it. I’m saying we’re miscategorizing what polarization even is.
We are still very likely to treat gay or bi or trans or nonbinary, Black or brown, Muslim or Jewish or Sikh or Hindu, or undocumented, or disabled, ill, neuroatypical, impoverished, or unhoused people, and many others, too, as if their lives and dignity don’t exist, or at least matter enough to fight about.
But more and more of us are unwilling to do that to them.
We are insisting that they are actually our friends and neighbors and brothers and sisters, and that their lives have the same value as ours, and they deserve protection from those of us who would mistreat them as if they were not us, too.
Some of us insist on behaving as if all of them are actually us.
Which means we are increasingly unwilling to keep comfortable and normalized relationships with those of us who insist on treating our brothers and sisters as if their lives don’t matter.
And yes, we’re willing to fight about that with some others among us—not because we see ourselves as separate from them, but because we know that even though we’re fighting them, they are actually us, too … and we demand better from ourselves.
It’s not the beginning of “us versus them.” It’s the end of it. Or, I hope, at least the beginning of the end of it.
Solidarity is solidarity with all.
Solidarity recognizes that the only way to repair is to refuse to abandon anybody to brokenness—including abusers, not by giving them the appeasement they demand, but by refusing to enable them in their support of abuse and brokenness and injustice, even if it would be more comfortable for us to do so.
Opposing supremacy represents solidarity even with supremacists—not by separating from them, but by insisting that they are a part of us, too. It’s recognizing ourselves even in oppressors, and recognizing the good in them specifically by expecting better of them, beginning by expecting better of ourselves.
This isn’t closing off the path to redemption for supremacists. In fact, it’s the only way to keep the path to redemption open, by insisting on creating an anti-supremacist world of repair. Remember that in abuse and oppression, the supremacist abuser and the oppressor is broken, too. It’s not your job to fix their brokenness—it’s theirs. Realize this: they won’t ever align with repair if you reconcile with their supremacy to satisfy your comfort, instead of leaving them (and maybe you) in discomfort until they finally stop waiting for exoneration and do their goddam job.
This isn’t abandoning them; rather, it’s refusing to abandon them to the world they insist on creating.
Remember that a supremacist society is unsustainable, because a society devoted to the idea that some people matter and others don’t is a society that makes the destruction of people inevitable. You won’t ever save a supremacist from a world that will consume them if you enable them in their creation of such a world.
Nor is this denying their good qualities.
If we want to see the redemption of the goodness within those who align with atrocity, we must expect them to align against the abuse and brokenness of blameless supremacy and to align with repair—which means confronting supremacists with their brokenness, and demanding a sustainable world of justice.
Listen to me: it is when we offer reconciliation without reparation that we truly abandon supremacist people as unredeemable, by helping them stay far from any redeeming work. It is when we exonerate them before they have changed their alignment that we truly condemn them as inherently bad, because we take their alignment with badness as an immutable fact. It is when we stay neutrally ignorant about what they support and complacently compromising about their intentions that we truly reject their good qualities, by allowing those qualities to be used in support of atrocity and abuse, harm and terror and demolition and death.
Solidarity means confronting supremacists with what they are and opposing their stated intent. It means demanding repair and refusing to abandon any of their targets to appease them.
Reconciliation makes oppression cheap, and maintains comfortable relationships with oppressors. But solidarity demolishes appeasing reconciliation, and increases the cost of oppression—and might move to your cause many appeasing people whose only goal is to avoid cost.
A blameless society, founded in supremacy, hates this, because it inevitably makes supremacy pay a higher cost—and supremacy is, above everything, opposed to paying costs.
You’ll know you’ve entered the discomfort of solidarity, because those exposed by your solidarity will attempt to oppress you, to punish you for rejecting their comfortable offer, to try to strip you of the determination to oppose them; to make the price of solidarity as high as they can make it.
For this reason, I think you’ll know that you’ve entered into a spirit of solidarity, when you start to pay.
I think solidarity is a powerful tool in our fight against sabotage, available to everyone.
It changes the frame. It changes the atmosphere.
It tells a new story.
And that’s what I think repair looks like.
A parting question: why do we need repentance, anyway?
Because if you’ve realized you’re going the wrong way, and stopped, and determined to go back, then you still have to turn yourself back in the right direction before you start walking again.
We need repentance because until we repent, we’ll never set our compasses for a return. We need repentance, because it points us back home—a home many of us have dreamed of but never seen. We need repentance, because until we have repented, we haven’t agreed to pay the cost of repair, which means we’ll never pay, which means the work won’t ever happen.
We need repentance, because it leads to reparation.
We need to repent, because repentance leads, at last, finally, to repair.
A.R. Moxon is the author of the novel The Revisionaries, available in most of the usual places and some of the unusual places, and co-writer of Sugar Maple, a musical fiction podcast from Osiris Media. He can stay out late cuz baby, he’s a full-grown man.