by Rabbi Michael Lerner & Cat Zavis
What Rabbi Lerner discovered as principal investigator of an NIMH research grant to the Institute for Labor and Mental Health on the psychodynamics work and family life is this: most middle income people carry either consciously or unconsciously a painful self-blaming story about how they screwed up or failed in ways that have made them fail to achieve what they hoped for in their lives. Yet what ILMH research showed was that most of these self-blaming stories were rooted in the central self-justification of the capitalist order: that capitalism creates the illusion that we live in a meritocracy. A meritocracy is one in which everyone can create the life they want and if they have failed to do so, it is their own fault and thus only have themself to blame. This story leaves out the roles of inherited wealth, limits on class mobility, unequal distribution of wealth, systemic discrimination, and the resulting unequal access to education, health, and longevity.
Most people go to great lengths to hide their self-blaming story, not only to friends and family but even to themselves. They soothe their pain through various addictive behaviors. Or they find right-wing churches that tell them that the source of their pain is the demeaned other of their society (in the US that has been African Americans and Native Amercans, and more recently homosexuals, immigrants, Jews, Muslims, LGBTQ people, liberals, progressives, and the list keeps growing).
Now can you see how destructive it is when many people on the Left talk about everyone not yet with us as “stupid”, or all white people as racist, or all men as sexist? That kind of talk just drives more and more people to the Right.
Tikkun and the Network of Spiritual Progressives help people understand these tendencies of self-blaming or blaming demeaned others and then dislodge them with prophetic empathy and a critique of the phony meritocracy. We need tens of millions of people to join this consciousness-raising campaign.
If our analysis speaks to you, we encourage you to share these ideas with your friends, family, elected officials, social change activists, and on social media. Just as consciousness-raising was central to the growth of the second wave of feminism in the 60s, 70s, and 80s, our strategy is to take this way of thinking about the pain people feel and bring it to millions of people. You can participate in this consciousness-raising effort by sharing this analysis and talking about it with others. Most people are unaware of the link between the fallacy of meritocracy and their pain of self-blaming. The more people internalize this message, the more likely they will have inner resources to reject reactionary politics that blames the ‘other’ for their pain.
(We’re all starved for financing in this difficult year, but if you can, click here to help Tikkun and the NSP with this project.)
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