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The Culture of “Fighting Back”

Isn’t Working

By AnneePublished 8 months ago 6 min read

If we want to be part of the solution to the challenges of the 21st century — we cannot continue to react or engage with the protest culture. We may have all been led to believe that the toughest problems of our society cannot get solved peacefully — but “fighting back” is not an option anymore.

“Fighting back” is a reflection of our loss of control over our future — of our victimhood. Our fatalism.

A Very Brief History of Our Protest Culture

Towards the dawn of the Enlightenment age in Europe, people became aware of their rights as human beings . They had tasted a sense a freedom and beingness — separate from the ideologies of the Church and the exploitative monarchies that controlled them. The European Reformation of the 16th century was the first documented protest: it was a public movement against papal authority, arising from what were perceived to be errors, abuses, and discrepancies by the Catholic Church.

Over the centuries, and in particular the 20th century, the protest culture spread to formerly colonised countries. An example is the Satyagraha, which is a nonviolent resistance or civil resistance movement started by Mahatma Gandhi, and was instrumental in helping India get her independence.

Some of such earlier protests were quite effective and often justified within the context of the time. But slowly, more and more protests have gone unaddressed. Today, protests are growing and widening into violent forms of dissent and activism, riots, insurgency and revolts. In recent years, car-burning has become a method of protest in France.

In July 2021, a wave of civil unrest occurred in South Africa, leading to deaths, destruction and looting of malls and small businesses. The damage to the South African economy was R 23.5 billion or $1.4 billion USD.

In many poverty-stricken developing countries, such violent forms of “fighting back” are reactions to the breakdown of society and failure of institutions of education, economy and governance. Our here, poverty, high unemployment and poverty conditions are further exacerbated by political paralysis and corruption. Many African countries are still rife in tribal wars and conflicts.

Fighting back is a survival-based reaction.

In evolutionary psychology, the flight-fight mode is an automatic physiological reaction to an event that is perceived as stressful or frightening.

Fighting back is a reaction.

As opposed to a response, a reaction is instant. A reaction is driven by the beliefs, biases, and prejudices of the unconscious mind. So when we fight, we are not paying attention to what is actually going on at a deeper level within us — or to the subtler forces of life.

Then, we are only concerned about our basic, physical survival.

“When we are in survival mode, we automatically become materialists, defining reality with our senses: by what we can see, hear, smell, feel, and taste. We also narrow our focus and put all our attention on matter — on our bodies existing in a particular space and time.” — Joe Dispenza

People “fight back” or react strongly when they sense that they have lost control over their lives or their future.

A feeling of loss of control over our lives is an extremely powerful, fear-based emotion. When one is uncontrollably overpowered by such strong, fear-based emotion — a victim-mentality tends to set in. A victim-mentality refers to a state of mind in which a person feels helpless and feels as though the world is against them.

It occurs at a personal level but as more and more people of the same group, community or nationality begin to hold the same feelings of disempowerment and thinking that the world is against them — it becomes a ‘collective victimhood’.

I have met a few black South Africans who believe that all white people hate them.

When we react in fear — our hearts and minds close. We gasp for air and clasp our fists tight: in one helpless moment, we do whatever it is we need to do to protect or defend ourselves.

The fear feels real — and in all possibility it could be real or undue.

But in a brief moment of fear, we lose the capacity to listen and feel the subtle forces within us. We become destructive . We are unable to think clearly.

Our Self-Destruction Needs to End

A true — but self-destructive belief — prevails in the collective psyche of nations experiencing political paralysis and corruption: that our freedom has been thwarted by those in power — authority, money and guns. And they cannot in their capacity stop these immutable forces.

Globally, there is an even more deeply ingrained belief that tough problems cannot get solved peacefully. It needs to be fought. Many countries “fought” to get their freedom either from colonists, occupiers, the Church or monarchies.

However, such collective past experiences have tainted the human psyche. As Eric Fromm, says — “The danger of the past was that men became slaves.”

An environmentalist once confessed that, “Many of the most aggressive environmentalists believe that the human species is deeply flawed and does not deserve to survive.”

It is a fatalistic and self-destructive feeling that the collective embraces. But when we fight back with this kind of thinking — we become part of the problem.

“The more the drive toward life is thwarted, the stronger is the drive toward destruction; the more life is realised, the less is the strength of destructiveness. Destructiveness is the outcome of unlived life.” — Eric Fromm

The More Life is Realised — the Less is the Strength of Destructiveness

If we want society, the collective or the larger system to change, we need to change: at a personal level first.

When confronted with a threat, uncertainty or feelings of insecurity, we must learn to not give-in to feelings of fear and the helplessness.

Destructive habitual ways of thinking, acting at a personal level — becomes embedded over time in our social structures. Our personal ways of thinking, acting and reacting — shapes, defines and characterises the society, collective we live in. Or the larger system we inhabit.

“The task of a person is to not feel secure, but rather to tolerate insecurity, without panic and undue fear. “ Eric Fromm

We need to learn to renew our sense of hope and have faith in ourselves and humanity — rather than easily succumbing to anger, apathy and boredom. We need to expect things to change in our societies, and the world, by activating our own sense of agency and purpose.

“To hope means to be ready at every moment for that which is not yet born…” To be ready for that which wants to emerge from within us.

We need to leave our reactionary survival mode and allow the subtler forces of life within us to emerge : Our ability to listen and feel compassion and empathy.

Our ability to listen deeply and feel compassion are the highest forms of human intelligence.

So allowing these subtler life forces of compassion and empathy to emerge, from deep within us — is what is going to end human suffering. This much superior form of human intelligence is what will end wars, conflicts and our destructive behaviour of wanting to — fight back.

This is the only way we can be part of the solution to challenges of the 21st century.


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