This song continues the album’s theme so far of one unified existence. Human beings are part of the fabric of reality. We give the universe eyes and prefrontal cortexes to see itself with. Not only that, but we share energy and even atomic particles with one another constantly. What makes me me was given to me by other people, and through my life I live in this constant give and take, until death—which is the final form of giving that we know of in this earth.
In seeing things through this lens, we believe this should have an impact on how we interact with one another. The differences that we see in one another are so minute compared to all the ways that we are the same thing. It’s sort of like sand. Up close, you can see all sorts of differences between grains of sand. Different colors, shapes and sizes. But if you zoom the camera out a little bit, all you see is sand. Black, white, gay, straight, Irish, Chinese, French, African… On our very up-close and subjective scale of sight, we can tell differences between individuals. We can see things like skin color, sexual orientation, or age. We can understand differences in religion, philosophy or economic status. But back up the camera just a little bit, and we’re all human beings. Skin and sinew and blood and brains. Wisps of smoke here for a moment and gone the next. We all came from the same stardust and to the same stardust we shall return.
In this broader perspective, things like racism and war and angry online debates can all seem quite silly. At the deepest level, we are all the same. When seen fully, this idea need not erase our differences, but transcend and include them. We don't all inhabit equal worlds, but we do all inhabit these human bodies and we are all just trying to survive and make the most of what we have. We are all born and we all die. We all need the same basic things. Want the same basic things. Hope for the same basic things. This should give us all a deep sense of humility and unity.
This 'sameness' is not the entire picture of course. Because on our usual zoom setting on the camera, there are real differences between people. Life is not fair. We are not all afforded the same opportunities. We are not all equally attractive and talented. There are major differences, advantages and disadvantages that every person is born with. Racism and white priveledge really does exist. Sexism really does exist. Slavery and political and religious oppression really do exist. And in order for us to move towards unity in any real way, those differences must be seen and accounted for. This is why the bridge of the song breaks down into recognizing those among us who sometimes are not treated as equals. It’s a recognition of the unbalanced scales of our society and our reminder of why it is so important to refresh our vantage point sometimes. To see my own face reflected back at me in the face of the other. To see how you and I are the same is to see that I can no longer standby idly as you are oppressed by my unfair position of privilege and power within our society as a white, straight, male, for instance. For as soon as we can see one another as one giant human family, I believe many of our fundamental societal problems begin fixing themselves from the inside out.
One of the potential pitfalls we faced and wrestled with this song was the potential misunderstanding of the lyrics in the bridge.
Every black life matters
Every woman matters
Every soldier matters
All the unborn matter
Every gay life matters
Here’s to life and all its branches
The danger we felt was that by adding anything to “every black life matters”, we hoped people wouldn’t see that as echoing the misguided response to “#blacklivesmatter” of #alllivesmatter. While it is technically true, of course, that all lives matter, this response to #blacklivesmatter is misguided because it fails to understand the point, and actually negates it. Nobody is saying (or have ever said) that straight, rich, white men’s lives don’t matter. It is an important thing to remember that specifically black lives matter in the midst of systemic racial oppression that manifests itself in things like mass incarceration from the unjustly waged war on drugs fought primarily in poor black communities or the countless young black men being shot, beaten, humiliated, and dehumanized by the police. Saying “white lives matter” in that context is to ignore the very real inequality present in our societies. This is why we left out the privileged positions of “white, male or straight” in our list of lives that matter in this song. Still, some have taken offense that we added anything to the list at all, as though we were trying to echo the sentiment of #alllivesmatter. I assure you, we were not.
The reason that we decided to go ahead and add to the statement “every black life matters” was because this song is not specifically about racial oppression, but about humanity as a whole. I really loved adding the line “black lives matter” because I feel without addressing the actual inequality of our society and the present issues of systemic oppression, the song veers into candy land. For us to get from solidarity to love, we are going to have to do some real systemic and maybe even political work. Black Lives Matter is at the center of that work in America right now. But to leave the inequality issues at race would be to leave out the also very real marginalization of LGBTQ people or unfair treatment of women in the workplace, for example. Also vital issues on the path to love. So this list is a list (although certainly not a comprehensives one) of people that people within our society tend to see as “less than” in some way. It is not intended to take away from Black Lives Matter at all. In fact, by adding other oppressed groups, the hope is to see that there is much work to be done before we could ever hope to arrive at a place where love and unity thrives. Not mere colorblindness, but with eyes that fully see and hearts that fully love.
So while this song is about the existential unity of all people, and not necessarily primarily about social justice, social justice is a step in the right direction on the way to true unity and love. Until we learn to see the other, the different, the enemy as our brother or sister, we have no hope for true peace. That’s the reason for including the one potential ‘oppressor' into the list by saying “fundamentalists matter.” Because for me, and many others, fundamentalists are the enemy of everything we are about. If there’s any group I have a tendency to dehumanize and marginalize in my own heart, it’s the people I perceive as fundamentalists. So if I’m going to call out the splinter in the fundamentalist’s eye in how they judge and look down on other people who are in reality equal to them, I might as well recognize the log in my own eye as well.
Here’s to life and all its branches!