Make no mistake about it, I find Rush Limbaugh to be completely irrelevant and one of the most offensive characters in media. I don’t for a minute believe the claim that Rush and his followers make that what he does is “entertainment,” because that isn’t its impact. Just as a comedian who isn’t funny can’t really claim to be a comic, someone who is trying to entertain but who also has a huge political agenda can’t claim to be an entertainer. His comments about everyone he disagrees with are patently offensive and unproductive. His remarks also betray a misogyny that is startling in its scope, and reflect the workings of a deeply disturbed mind.
All of that having been said, the answer to Rush Limbaugh’s comments about Sarah Fluke, birth control, Georgetown University students, aspirin, and associated issues is not to destroy Rush Limbaugh.
We have developed an adversarial culture in America. We want to destroy the enemy, and we find the enemy all around us. Political discourse has been transformed from a discussion about matters of governmental leadership to matters of personal attack and eliminating the opposition in which any means necessary to achieve said elimination is perfectly acceptable. Liberals want to close the School of the Americas by using the same search and destroy techniques taught there and then wonder why they don’t succeed. Republicans want to obliterate Democrats, who want to return the favor. We run about demanding apologies as if someone else were responsible for our injured little feelings, but we really are after more than an apology. What we really want is to destroy the offending party’s career so that they can never offend us again. We can’t seem to understand that in doing so we simply perpetuate the problem.
Of course, it’s perfectly appropriate to boycott advertisers who support people and programming that we find offensive. In fact, if we spend our money supporting companies that do things we disagree with we are actually contributing to the problem we pretend to deplore. You can’t claim to be opposed to sweat shops while wearing Nike shoes or using an Apple computer, yet millions of us do precisely that – but let Kirk Cameron express an opinion about the LGBT community we don’t agree with and we not only won’t patronize his next movie – not because he’s a terrible actor or that his movies go direct to video only – but we will do all we can to see he never works again.
Why do we do that, but still use our Apple computers? Why do we want to destroy Rush Limbaugh while wearing our Nikes? We do this because it makes us feel good and costs us nothing, just like auto-eroticism. Someone asked me recently why I use the analogy of masturbation so frequently. My answer is that I can’t find a better analogy for much of contemporary behavior. We like to consider ourselves activists as long as doing so doesn’t cost us anything like our Apples or our Nikes – yet our Apples and Nikes are killing people, while Rush Limbaugh and Kirk Cameron are only insulting people. That’s masturbatory activism, because we really don’t have to commit, we don’t have to invest ourselves, it makes us feel pretty good, but only for a time and then we have to dim the lights again and search out our next target.
We simply have to stop trying to kill the enemy, no matter who we believe the enemy to be, because killing the enemy doesn’t solve the problem. If we destroy Rush Limbaugh, the next Rush Limbaugh in waiting will merely fill the vacuum left by Rush’s destruction. If we destroy Kirk Cameron, I’m not sure anyone will even notice. The point is that shooting the messenger doesn’t affect the message. If our goal is to influence the message then we are going to have to work to change it through education and loving the messenger. The complaint about that process is that it takes too long. Funny, that’s what a lot of people say about building an intimate relationship. The resolution to both complaints is essentially the same – masturbatory rituals of one sort or another.
If we are really interested in changing the world, we have to stop trying to kill the enemy and switch to a strategy of loving them. We can speak our opposition with love rather than hate. We can look to change the way companies do business through boycotts without trying to drive them out of business. We can speak in a calm and well-informed manner – Sarah Fluke has been a model of this strategy – both in witness to our truth and in responding to our critics. To do this we will have to choose to surrender our rage – a rage that is perhaps our most damaging addiction.
We are an angry people. Most likely because I am a spiritual teacher, I believe a huge part of the problem is that the institutions that used to provide us with meaning in our lives have failed us miserably in increasing scope over the last fifty years. We are confused, cast adrift, trying to understand our world and bereft of tools to do the important work of understanding our world and our lives. Many of us have sought to find meaning in politics and/or political issues. Ultimately, like economics, those things are so highly subjective that they aren’t real. They would be very different if our values were different, which means that we can change our reality by changing the things that are important to us – but we don’t see that truth because we are too busy raging against the machine.
In the last week I have seen more people who would never talk about Rush Limbaugh doing precisely that on social and other media. For someone like Rush, whose income is dependent upon ratings and being well-known, that hardly represents a failure despite the loss of advertisers. Our rage increases our adrenaline which decreases our judgment and so we act in counter-productive ways. That is an old song, indeed. What if we saw people like Rush Limbaugh for who they are: People with the same fears and concerns that each of us have. We all want to be liked, we all want to live comfortably and we all have the same basic needs for food, clothing, and shelter. While it is true that Rush Limbaugh’s four hundred million dollar contract puts him in a financial class that most of us can’t imagine, I am quite sure that he experiences the same fear at the prospect of his income being reduced or eliminated that you and I do. You will argue that he seems to be willing to hurt others to maintain his status, and I will ask you about your Nikes, Mac computers, and hardwood floors.
The next time someone does something that offends you or hurts your little feelings, ask yourself what that person fears that may be driving their behavior. Then look for yourself in those fears, and ask yourself how to respond with compassion – for it is only with compassion that we will change our circumstances and our world.