THE SPLITTING WITH 2 ENDINGS
Thoughts after the PCCA Virtual Event “Democracy under Fire”
It all started for me with the invitation letter to the participants of the conference, dated on October 13, sent by the three directors of the upcoming conference. It was very good that they referred to the most brutal attack on Israeli communities on October 7. But they did not refer to the plight of the people in Gaza, who at that time suffered from the shelling through Israeli warplanes. Praying for the victims was only considered for the Israeli victims and hostages. I realised this immediately, but quickly put it into the backyard of my thoughts.
In the conference, despite the repeated appeals by the staff to stick to the democracy topic, the war again and again was not only mentioned by also re-enacted. Splitting which every war necessarily entails infiltrated at least the small group where I was assigned to, most likely also the conference as a whole.
The splitting I perceived in the conference was deep, so deep that at times I felt paralysed, crippled in my thoughts and actions. With hindsight, this is the strongest experience for me in this conference (beside surprisingly a very positive one): when splitting is very active there seems to be no chance for defending and protecting yourself, certainly not to feel safe. You either shout or run away from the attacks, withdraw inside or leave to the outside.
2 IN 1 – VENTURING AN IMPOSSIBLE TASK
- Scott Fitzgerald speaks about “the ability to hold two opposing ideas in mind at the same time and still retain the ability to function”. Is this really doable when you are in the middle of a war?
My experience, living in West Jerusalem and working in East Jerusalem says: This is my deep conviction; this is the thought that leads me personally in my life. But now in the midst of war, by doing so I feel unreal. In order to feel real it seems I have to take sides, at the same time knowing that there is another perspective to the same situation that might be valid likewise. I have to admit, my feeling is not in sync with my thinking at the moment. I am confronted with my limits, painfully so, at least in this situation now.
CHANGE WITHOUT CHANGE
Laws of physics say that appearances can change, but the underlying equations do not. If I understand the Physicist and Nobel Prize Winner Frank Wilczek correctly, this is called the “symmetry property”. For example if there is a circle, you can rotate it around; every point in the circle might move but the circle itself does not change. It might look different when it rotates, but the underlying basic shape remains the same. What does this mean for changing one’s position when there is a split of perceptions in a group, in a community, between peoples? If I understand this law of nature correctly, whichever alternative we choose, whether the yes-side or the no-side, whether in favour of these victims or of those victims, the underlying equation remains the same. So how to deal with “Change without change”? Is there something to understand from this?
THE HERE AND NOW: WIDENING THE CIRCLE
Well, after the thoughts about “Change without change” it is hard to say more. Let me try it with a thought I mentioned in the conference, it is about “The Here and Now”. One of the ideas that are seemingly precious to some of the participants and the staff is “stay in the Here and Now”. To me, this is not enough in such a conference and especially does not help much when there is the mechanism of splitting at work. I personally think that we all are standing for many others who for what reason so ever do not participate. Representing others with their plights and thoughts is to me not only important, because poverty and language, social and educational barriers prevent people to take part in such a conference, to mention only a few. When talking about “Democracy” we exclude them from democracy when representing only us ourselves. Modern Democracy has at its core a structure of representation. My other reason, very important for my appeal: widening the circle of “Here and Now”: Those who we represent could help us to widen also the perspective in which we are stuck by a split. Example: I was there “with” Palestinians I know, “with” Israelis I know, “with” Germans I know, “with” a friend from Viet Nam who I know and an acquaintance from the Ukraine who I know. I had some of them in mind but failed to bring them adequately in. I realised, it is not enough to represent only me in the conference. I suggest widening the circle of our “Here and Now”. Perhaps this will also help in dealing with splitting mechanisms.
PHOENIX FROM THE ASHES
In midst of War we don’t know what will be. We might live, we might die in this. To strengthen our survival I think we need narratives, rather than rational scenarios. The mythological figure of Phoenix, a kind of firebird, for me is a picture that life will survive, at least beyond time frames in which we usually think. Phoenix dies of fire or in other traditions decomposes of other events. In the wisdom of myths he regenerates himself by being born again from the ashes, albeit in some traditions after hundreds of years.
I don’t find another en-lightening ending than this in the current situation of war.
ANOTHER ENDING: “PEOPLE OF ORDERED ANARCHY”
A lot happened in those three days: a democracy was borne, was shaken, was let free into an insecure world. This was what happened to me in the Event Group in which I took part. I and two more came as latecomers into a group where some were already there, had become founders by bonding with each other and seemed to enjoy themselves. We newcomers brought our own topics, mine was “The Dark Side of Democracy”, with difficulties to explain what is meant by this. Who wants what, what do we want together? This question was never answered, it became almost fluid. As a “democracy” with a small “demos” (the people) there was no dearth of enacted issues to deal with: feeling of belonging (the wish of a member to leave the conference, it was me), and the impact of “kratos” (power, grip) on our “democracy”. Fear for manipulation, and of tyranny, heavily cropped up: “The dark side of democracy” was no more a dubious title, but now very tangible: power and vulnerability reared its head. Why did the just borne democracy not break under these heavy weights and even might have grown stronger? It was a great courage to talk about one’s partly embarrassing motives and no less great trust that “talking brutally open” with each other, as one group member said, was practised.
Here what I learned about democracy in this group:
- Faith develops by Face: Trust, I call it here Faith, develops through small structures and can build a foundation that helps large democratic systems not to break under the inevitable conflicts that such structures entail. Democracy is not a Promised Land, it is highly vulnerable and prone to develop “The dark side of Democracy”: demagogy, manipulation, tyranny. Hope alone does not help here. It needs alertness and courage. My experiental learning was: small structures can help and have to be in place in a modern democracy: groups who are at the same time in and out. They enable very personal and political learning and they stand up for the value of rights of minorities, that a modern democracy with the dominance of relatively inflexible structures and a strong orientation to majority cannot sufficiently give. Like NGOs who move in the Lobby in and out, small groups who hold up in a very tangible way that what inevitably falls short of democracy. Granted, there is always the danger of living in a silo. But surprisingly our little democracy attracted many curious visitors who seemingly were looking for good democratic features. We did not feel being in a silo, more like an interesting experimental model.
- Whose democracy is it? Who is counted in, who is counted out? Democracy needs always the fight for inclusion, it’s not a Promised Land. An idealisation of democracy risks that its dark side will spring up heavily. Not the law of majority makes a democracy function, it is the struggle for inclusion, for justice. In our small demcracy inclusion was possible through tough love as only small groups can give.
I experienced “my” democracy group in the conference with a lot of delight and liveliness. Maybe a bit like groups in pre-colonalised times that researches called “people of ordered anarchy”, with a very flexible, almost fluid structure developed in the process of becoming itself. You might say: that’s not an experience of democracy, rather an experience of home? Well…
But, beware of idealisation! A democracy, just borne does not say anything about its future prospects. History tells us that instant democracies often do not survive. The fight is never finished. Future remains insecure.
01/11/2023 Ingeborg Tiemann