I trace the insurrection upstream to separate traits of human behavior.
Dishonesty and awareness.
Why do people lie? It’s a control mechanism. They believe it will suit their own ends, that it will bring them comfort or peace of mind. It’s a delusion.
Why would people join a mob? They believe the words uttered by the president of the United States. In the right (or wrong) circumstances, it is not a far leap from that belief to a conscious choice to full-blown domestic terrorism.
In believing the lies and subsequently acting on them, the individual members of the mob have not taken the time or action, to think deeply, or even shallowly, to analyze the utterances emanating from the individual hiding behind the presidential seal. Blithely heedless of the dishonesty, they are, in the most literal sense of the word, true believers.
They lack awareness.
These upstream behavioral sketching thoughts have been front of mind for me, long before the insurrection, because I’m writing a book about them. It’s a creative nonfiction memoir backtracking, identifying, owning and describing my own traits and behaviors as a young man in the throes of addiction, before the destruction took its toll.
The parallels are pretty vivid. Addicts are narcissists by nature. We carefully construct an existence with a singular end game – to get what we want. Nothing else matters. Period. End of paragraph.
At its core, recovery from addiction involves deep introspection and eventually, surrender. Stripped bare of the lies, justifications and rationalizations, one becomes aware of the dishonesty. The actual recovery methods of those of us fortunate to survive will be as disparate as individuals, but they all tend to begin the same way, with the fundamental awareness that there’s a problem.
There was a time, not that long ago, when I believed the individual in the White House was not that important. That thought was based on confidence in the equilibrium of the separation of powers, the efficacy of checks and balances, and in the fundamental character of those who offer themselves for public office. I believed Al Gore when he said, “defeat may serve as well as victory to save the soul and let the glory out.”
Until this one, I never doubted the individual in the White House would protect us from all enemies, foreign and domestic. I stand with John Kelly who said last week, “We need to look infinitely harder at who we elect to any office in our land…”
Waking up is unpleasant, but we can’t just stay in bed with our insular thoughts and selfish ends.
At the height of the insurrection, my son and a niece separately reached out, each deeply troubled. One’s a doctor, one wants to be a lawyer. I found myself grateful for their heart and soul and they threw me back in time to Watergate, when I was young. To keep things in perspective and to cheer me up, my son told a story of fetching my soon-to-be-two-year-old grandson from daycare. It seems the lad was marching out, singing, “I am happy! I am happy!”
Oh, to be two years old.
As grateful as I am that the next generation of my family turns to me for advice and comfort during times like these, and as confident as I am in their ability, we can’t just dump this in the collective millennial lap.
Unlike my grandson, I am not happy. I remain sad, nauseous and angry. Sadness that it has reached this point; nausea over the spectacle; and anger because of the cowardice.
We are one dive deeper into a reckoning that will last for years. If more people become more aware, better actions will follow. If we raise our expectations, think deeper and act differently, maybe a new cycle of equilibrium will emerge between those in public office; those who would choose purposefully to join a mob; and all of the rest of us.
A more perfect union.
Our failure to do that will be the real American carnage.
Mike Matson’s column appears every other Sunday in The Mercury. Follow his blog at mikematson.com.