We aren’t a culture that knows how to win well. It’s not just something we see in the aftermath of a fight or an election, though that’s what started me thinking about it today. The narrative of conflict we have stops too early. There is a great battle and then someone wins, and then it’s over: the narrative of redemptive violence.
It seems to me that there’s another step, and that when you leave out reconciliation and reintegration, you wind up perpetuating a fight that should be over. Tolkien understood that. Even when his heroes won their fight, there was the struggle after the struggle. Psychologists and psychiatrists who deal with soldiers returning from war understand the profound difficulty of moving from being in conflict to being in peacetime. And when we skip that part, I think we don’t actually experience the release and calm that an actual end to conflict should give. And so instead, we try being violent a little more. Rubbing it in, keeping the conflict going in — it seems to me — a vain hope of squeezing that catharsis out of it.
Winning well also feel a little like losing because it means stepping back from the battle, letting go of the excitement and rage, and trying to acknowledge the humanity of the person or people you were demonizing just a little while ago. The uncomfortable truth is that there’s a comfort in demonizing our enemies. It makes things simple and permits a kind of anger that’s very simple, very comfortable, and almost always inaccurate.
I’m a liberal, and considerably left of President Obama on many, many issues. But I have conservative friends and family who I’m sure are feeling anxious and despairing today. I just wanted to take a moment to say that I know how you feel, and while I still disagree with all y’all on some issues basic enough to approach axiomatic, I’m sorry this part’s hard. If my guy had lost, I’d be pretty damned down today myself.
I know from experience that there are more interesting and more profound conversations about this that we can have now that we’re not in a fight, provided we can let go of being in a fight. I know that we’re in a media environment that deals with nuance and depth poorly, and that people are nuanced and we’re deep. And I know that violence, even rhetorical violence, redeems nothing.
If any of y’all want a cup of coffee and sympathy, your loyal opposition is here for you. I’m happy to listen to whatever you have to say (short of violence and trolling). I won’t agree with all of it, and I’ll call you on some of it, but I recognize that you are also citizens of my nation and of my world. I’d rather our conflicts go through all the way to the end, where — win or lose or resting to go at it again later — we are capable of being reconciled.