by William Trollinger
Once you “other” someone, then you can do anything to them.
Rebecca Solnit is a wonderful writer, not just because she is masterful with words (and here I confess some envy), but also because she has a compelling moral sensibility that invites us to remember that – despite how bleak the current political moment might seem – there are lots of loving folks on this planet. For example, in an article arrestingly entitled, “The American Civil War didn’t end. And Trump is a Confederate president,” Solnit argues that those who (in contrast with the president and his minions) hold to equality and justice for all are on the side of history, but we (if I may) must reject culture war logic and instead reach out to those with whom we disagree.
Recently Solnit published a brilliant article in The Guardian entitled “Why You’ll Never Meet a White Supremacist Who Cares About Climate Change.” The article was prompted by the eerie reality that the slaughter of 50 Muslims in the Christchurch mosque coincided with the nearby climate strike on the part of the city’s youth. As Solnit put it, “it was a shocking pairing and also a perfectly coherent one, a clash of opposing ideologies.” On the one hand, climate activists are driven by a “recognition of the beautiful interconnection of all life and the systems . . . on which that life depends.” Climate action is about protecting life, all life, “because human beings are not separate from the fate of insects, of birds, of the life in the sea, of the forests that sequester carbon, of the diseases that will thrive on a warmer planet.” In short, climate activists are driven by love, a love for the entire planet.
In contrast, the Right is adamantly, apocalyptically opposed to climate action, in good part because that would require recognizing that we are all connected on this planet, and that we must all cooperate. As Solnit puts it,
So much of rightwing ideology now is about a libertarian machismo in the “I can do anything I want” vein. It’s the pro-gun myth that we can each protect ourselves with a weapon when in reality we’re all safer with them out of our societies. It’s the idea that we can deregulate the hell out of everything and everyone can just look out for themselves whether it’s food safety or infrastructure safety or air and weather quality. To kill someone you have to feel separate from them, and some violence – lynching, rape – ritualizes this separateness. Violence too comes out of a sort of entitlement: I have the right to hurt you, to determine your fate, to end your life.
This same ideology of separation animates much of Protestant fundamentalism, even those parts of the fundamentalist movement which would recoil from the notion of “white supremacy.” For example, take Ken Ham’s young Earth creationist organization, Answers in Genesis (AiG). It is not just that the creationists at AiG absolutely do not care about climate change (see here, here, here, and here). It is that they evince no concern for those – humans and animals alike – who will pay the price for global warming.
But all of this tightly connects with their notion that the saved (i.e., themselves and those who believe as they do) are completely separate from all other human beings. They imagine themselves so separate from all other human beings that they are very matter-of-fact about the notion that God is entitled to impose the worst sorts of violence on “the other.” How else to explain the creation of a theme park (Ark Encounter) that has its central theme that God rightly drowned up to 20 billion people (including children and infants) – not to mention billions of animals – in a global Flood? How else to explain AiG’s resolute affirmation of the justice of divine genocide?
I have struggled to understand the moral callousness at the heart of Ark Encounter, the Creation Museum, and AiG. But I think Solnit has it right. As far as these young Earth creationists are concerned, those species going extinct, those billions who (so they claim) drowned in the Flood, those billions (so they claim) who will suffer eternal torment in Hell: they are oher. We are separate from them. They are not our concern. So be it.