Power and the Tower of Babel

Power and Divisive Politics

Hey there everyone! Sorry that I’ve been gone, I had to take a few days off for my mental health. After a couple of days in the sunshine, I feel recharged and ready to write! During this past week, I found myself thinking about the story of the Tower of Babel a lot. If you’ve seen the news in America these past couple years, you’ll know that fascism, racism, Nazism, and a whole boatload of other evils are on the rise here.

There are groups of people out there who very literally want to commit genocide. So they force the rest of us to play divisive politics, creating an “us against them” attitude where our only options are to stand up and fight or to sit back and watch them commit atrocities against humanity. And so I’ve been thinking a lot about strength in unity lately, and about how bigoted politicians are trying to divide and conquer the USA. It’s truly terrifying, to say the very least. Their hate and bigotry unite them.

Hatred and manifestos claiming superiority circulate online at unprecedented speed. Misinformation and bile are spread through social media which divides, weakens, and silences minority groups. Division weakens groups, and the story of the Tower of Babel is all about how the people of Earth were divided.

Why Would G-d Divide Us If Division Breeds Conflict?

The current American political climate is divided and hostile, so why on Earth would G-d separating peoples be good for us? Well, I guess I should backtrack a little bit. So let’s look at a brief explanation of the Tower of Babel story.

The children of Naamah and Noah multiplied after the flood. People united both geographically and under the same language. To show the power of their unity, they decided to build a tower to reach into the heavens. Upon seeing this, G-d struck the tower, scattered the people over the land, and confused their languages to ensure that they could never unite like that again.

There are varying interpretations of why G-d would do this. Some say it was because the people were building the tower in an attempt to overthrow G-d. Others say it was because the people didn’t spread over the Earth as G-d had instructed. Was G-d scared of being overthrown, or annoyed at the peoples’ insubordination?

Since the text has no clear cut answer, it’s open for interpretation. It could be a story used to explain the history of the ruined Mesopotamian ziggurat Etenenaki, AKA the Tower of Babel.

I don’t know about you, but the above interpretations don’t really do it for me. Fear and punishment as the moral takeaway? Seems a little cynical. So what other reason could G-d have had for scattering and dividing the people of Earth?

The Tower of Babel Is a Protection Story

Suppose the builders of the Tower of Babel really were trying to overthrow G-d. If they succeeded, imagine the amount of power that they would have had. Can we be sure that they would be responsible, just rulers? Can we be sure that it wouldn’t turn into a dictatorship, authoritarian regime or fascist state?

Language barriers and national borders separate people and ideas. Sure, they can breed conflict, just look at the world today. But they also help protect us . Think of how fast information can be spread in today’s day and age. The internet gives us the ability to transcend geographical borders, right? We can send information halfway around the world in an instant!

It’s wonderful but dangerous. People spread misinformation and fear-monger, they live stream massacres. They write hateful doctrines advocating genocide and destruction of anything that’s different from them. Lucky for us, these doctrines aren’t universally available. Language barriers limit our ability to engage in intercultural exchanges, but they also slow the spread of hateful ideologies. Not to sound dramatic or anything, but it will be hard for a single authoritarian to gain control over a divided world.

I’m not 100% sure, but it seems like a global empire could turn hegemonic and homogeneous. It seems like the scattering of the people and the confusion of languages helps safeguard against that.

Celebrating Our Differences

Did people actually get thrown from a tower and develop distinct languages? Evolutionary psychology says probably not. But that doesn’t mean we can’t still learn from the story!

We can see by reading the story that homogeneity leads to feelings of superiority and pride. What exactly do I mean when I talk about hegemonic and homogeneous societies though? Hegemonic means ruling or dominant, and homogeneous means to be made of all the same things. It’s basically what the Nazis wanted: a worldwide culture with one particular group of in power. Clearly, G-d didn’t want that for Earth.

Diversity is beautiful! It gives us a reason to be proud of our culture, and it gives us reasons not to get too prideful of our culture; diversity keeps us in check. Nothing’s perfect, and diversity reminds us of that fact. Especially in language diversity.

See, there’s no language that’s 100% perfect. You’ve been misunderstood before, we all have been at some point or another. That’s just life. What you think usually comes out different than what you say, and what people hear is usually different from what you mean. College speech class talks about those differences on the first day of class. That means that each different language presents a new way of talking about, seeing, and thinking about the world! This means we’ll always be able to find new and unique ways to appreciate the beauty of life! It also makes it more difficult for hate to spread.

Separation is A Good Thing

So yes, being separated by language and by country creates conflict, but that conflict is a necessary evil. Conflict teaches us how to be better, how to work together and grow together. G-d scattered the people in order to make us more neighborly, preventing anyone from successfully taking over the world. We shouldn’t look up to any mortal ruler. G-d is Love, and Love should guide us. We learn empathy by putting ourselves in our neighbors’ shoes, not by looking down on them. Empathy is what makes us strong, understanding despite our differences and embracing our differences makes us strong. We need a global community, not a global empire. That’s what I think the Tower of Babel story is all about.


What do you think is the meaning of the Tower of Babel story? Let me know in the comments! Thanks for reading! 😊

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