– Marc Gafni’s collaborators, colleagues, and friends speak out about the smear campaign. This statement by Dr. Zachery Stein on Dehumanizing Marc Gafni was first posted as a comment to the Center for Integral Wisdom statement on centerforintegralwisdom.org. You can read the statement below or listen to the audio. –

I am not writing because I am a “defender” or “supporter” or “student” of Marc Gafni.

Granted, I know Marc well. I am helping to build the Center for Integral Wisdom think tank along with Gafni, Kempton, Galperin, Maloney, Ingersoll, Farrell, Wilber, Schmachtenberger, Fuhs, and about 10 other scholars. As a group we’ve got over ten books in process and about four nearly ready for press. During this multi-year collaboration I have found Marc to be an incredibly creative writer and teacher, and arguably the best practitioner-scholar of Jewish mysticism on the planet. I also consider Marc a close personal friend, having known him for nearly a decade; I believe we share an uncommon passion for deep philosophical reading and scholarship. I have never experienced Marc as anything other than transparent, generous, and thoughtful.

But this bit of writing here is not exactly about Marc. I would write this for anyone I knew to be in Marc’s position, just as I would also step in to support a perfect stranger if I believed they were being maliciously and wrongly condemned in the court of public opinion. And make no mistake: Marc is being maliciously and wrongly condemned. I write here, and not on Facebook or my own blog, because I am choosing to put my voice beside the voices of others in a curated space, and outside the frenzy of social media pseudo-discourse, which is the focus of my critique here.

Think what you will of Marc; I am not writing to change minds. I have many friends who I may never see eye-to-eye with about him. So be it. I am simply writing to those who are sincerely seeking justice, accountability, and a way forward. Seeking this, however, means that everyone must be treated with a basic level of civility and respect. This is the deeper meaning of phrases like “due process” or “procedural justice,” which imply a basic respect for human decency and fair treatment, even of those we disagree with and seek to punish.
My point here is that we must not dehumanize others—even those we believe to be our enemies, even those we disagree with and seek to punish. This is one of the great lessons of this past century of global warfare, and it is a lesson we must remember in these new days of extremism and violence, when we are tempted again to paint our enemies in masks and to make them inhuman. Unfortunately, the politics of dehumanization are alive and well, and they are even seeping into progressive and new age circles.

Marc and those involved with him (including his alleged victims) have been collectively dehumanized in the recent social media spectacle. This has cut off almost any chance of working toward restorative justice. Restorative justice requires re-humanizing everyone involved, and moving toward truth, communication, and reconciliation. I am not naïve about what this means and I understand that some people have declined requests by Marc to initiate this kind of process. This is made especially difficult because there are some who are putting time, money, and thought into orchestrating a public condemnation of Marc. Their motives are diverse and I wont speculate on them here, but they are fully aware that Marc is not a sociopath, sex predator, or child molester—yet they perpetuate this totally incredible criminalization of him anyway. This kind of vile and manipulative dishonesty is radically dehumanizing and leaves us unable to move towards any forms of reasonable dialogue or truth seeking.

Let me be clear on what I mean here when I use a term like dehumanizing, because the media is so consistently and mundanely dehumanizing that it can be hard to tell when we are doing it ourselves.

I stand opposed to anyone who would blame victims or disempower those who have been hurt or who are vulnerable. My whole agenda in writing this is to get everyone into a dialogue that moves towards restorative justice. So I see it as dehumanizing when even well-intentioned people draw alleged victims into the spotlight to further their own biased agendas. Those who are not victims must avoid using the voices of victims as if they were their own. Self-declared victim advocates have stepped up to bring alleged victims out into the light so they can be exposed, passing their stories around in the media as “chilling proof” and “damning evidence.” Use of first person accounts in this way is not only irresponsible, it runs counter to what genuine and compassionate victim advocacy looks like. Self-appointed moral crusaders are exploiting and dehumanizing those they are seeking to help, and they are driving all parties further away from any kind of moderated dialoguing towards justice and closure.

It is dehumanizing to talk about someone using categories (such as extreme psychiatric diagnoses) that imply the person is lacking basic human traits (such as conscience) and thus suggest the person has no rights to basic dignity and decent treatment. Reading a pop-science book or two and then throwing around psychological diagnoses is one thing. However, when professional therapists, councilors, and coaches openly and irresponsibly apply psychiatric diagnostic categories to people they have barely (or never) even spoken to, they conjure up the long, sad history of psychology’s role in the justification of dehumanizing and oppressive practices. Of all people, those with leanings toward holistic forms of psychology should know better than to casually use categories that have such a long history of misuse. Historically, countless numbers have suffered as a result of inaccurate but legally binding diagnoses, where basic rights are stripped away and a wide variety of treatments can be administered involuntarily, from drugs to confinement (and worse). Similar to being labeled a “terrorist,” psychiatric labels can be used to take away human rights and to place an individual profoundly “outside” of a community’s standards of decency. It is frightening to see a public culture that relishes in the use of psychiatric language and plasters this stigmatizing and divisive discourse on blogs and headlines.

Finally, it is all too easy to dehumanize through the careless objectification others. Just as an example, when speculating about Marc’s behavior, one participant on social media said: “This is fun… glad to be talking about this. It is better than looking at news about global warming or the GOP.” Although probably a joke, this was one of the most heartbreaking comments in the whole thread to me. As the polarized “post-truth” debate raged, the whole thing became a kind of spectacle to some, and people’s lives disappeared into the rest of the celebrity intrigue, dishonesty, and corruption in the news feeds. The actual people involved have been transformed from factual reality into abstract spectacle. Total strangers have been making use of other people’s tragedies simply to fuel personal arguments and agendas and to engage in acts of conspicuous self-display. It has been deeply disappointing and disturbing to see otherwise reasonable people toiling over various different and increasingly lurid accounts, all mixtures of exaggeration, speculation, and pure fiction.

What alarms me most is that this spectacle is the opposite of what will lead towards restorative justice. This is really why I am writing: because I see many who are sincerely seeking justice taking the path of injustice. If you truly want a fair and honorable resolution to this then work towards creating conditions conducive to dialogue, communication, perspective taking, and accountability. It is my hope that a way can be found to move forward in which there are more successful attempts at mutual understanding, civility, and procedures pursuant to justice.

Dr. Zachary Stein
Academic Director, Center for Integral Wisdom