Manichaeism was a major religion founded by the Iranian prophet Mani in the second century. It thrived between the third and seventh century, but lost out to Islam. Manichaeism taught an elaborate cosmic dualism describing the struggle between a good spiritual world of light and an evil material world of darkness.
Today Manichaeism seems to be making a comeback. We divide ourselves into a binary ethos of red/blue, rich/poor, Uzis/disarmament, black/white, abortion/choice and climate change/hoax. One is tempted to blame President Trump, but this devolving simplistic world view has been going on for a long time.
What is weird about it is that everything for the last 500 years makes clear that our world is much more complex and complicated than we ever knew. Life is filled with nuance, ambiguity and uncertainty. The world is not binary.
Consider the 2016 presidential election results. In Alabama 729,547 voters cast their ballot for Hillary Clinton. In Mississippi 485,131 citizens voted for her. Conversely, 2,146,015 Illinoisans and 4,483,810 Californians voted for Donald Trump. Yes, that really happened.
Manichaeism in Oak Park politics is manifested by what is known as Trump Derangement Syndrome, whereby Trump’s corruption and lunacy is attributed to all Republicans, and therefore reasoned argument is pointless. This is so despite Pew Research Center polling that 19 percent of conservative Republicans and 43 percent of self-identified moderate and liberal Republicans regard climate change as a major threat. On taxes, 42 percent of all Republicans say some corporations don’t pay their fair share, and 37 percent believe that some of the wealthy should pay more income tax. Democrats poll similar non-monolithic views.
So how come we are so divided these days? I say follow the money. Who benefits the most from a Manichaeistic world view? It’s obvious. The two political parties and mass media. Contributions to Republican and Democratic parties have never been higher, and both conservative and liberal TV show ratings are off the charts. There’s gold in dividing us into two camps, convinced that we are engaged in a death struggle between the light and the dark. President Eisenhower warned of a military-industrial complex whereby generals and Defense Department elites shuffled back and forth with weapons manufacturers. Today Republican- and Democrat-elected and -appointed officials shuffle back and forth with mass media pundits and talking heads on media platforms like Fox, CNN and MSNBC.
So in our democracy we citizens should stop slavishly supporting our political parties and mindlessly listening to paid, political, talking entertainers lest we remain citizens of our modern Manichea.