Why write this? Why another blogsite?
Because it needs to be done. Because we must all put our shoulders to the wheel and push in the right direction. Because if we don’t, our destination may be dystopia.
I have lived a long life and witnessed many things and lived through remarkable changes. I have seen gas stations with three bathrooms – Men, Women, Colored. I have seen fire hoses and German Shepherds used against peaceful protesters seeking legitimate rights and fair treatment. And I have seen the end of those disgraceful practices and the election of a black President. I have seen the race riots of the 60s, the assassination of three of this country’s most revered leaders and the bringing down of a powerful president. I’ve seen hundreds of thousands of people marching against the Viet Nam War and hundreds of thousands more peacefully gathering at Woodstock, New York. And I have seen the end of that war and the demise of the Flower Power movement. I’ve seen the world a hairsbreadth away from nuclear holocaust and I have seen the collapse of the Soviet empire. I have seen the flourishing of the Internet and its never-before-imagined revolution in how we communicate, organize and learn.
All of those events and countless others and all that change, occurring over a lifetime tend to produce an attitude in someone like me that can be summed up in the hackneyed, but altogether true phrase, “this too will pass.” For me and for so many of my age, the daily dose of “Emergency!” “Crisis!” “Scandal!” served up by the news media merits mostly a figurative shrug because, whatever the emergency, crisis or scandal, it too will pass. And you know what? We’re right. It does pass. And those who look back wonder what all the hoopla was about.
Which is why it’s important to me that the present feels different. My usual sense of “this too will pass” has faded to black. What’s going on now feels, looks, sounds more dangerous, more lasting, more threatening to order, good sense, safety, prosperity, decency, unity and, yes, democracy, than anything I’ve yet witnessed. We’re veering crazily between extremes and most of the usual safeguards – the press, political parties, academia – are failing. Due process of law, though still resilient, is under attack. I believe that I’m seeing the demise of that United States of America that, for all its faults - and they have always been many - has served as a beacon of strength, hope, opportunity and a degree of freedom for so many around the world.
I’ve often theorized that this country nurtures in its bosom the potential for fascism, a willingness to abandon rights and liberties in exchange for order, for “making the trains run on time.” I thought that would come about, if at all, in the event of some real debacle, a crash in the value of the currency, for example. I thought such an event would be accompanied by a major war.
And yet, seemingly out of nowhere, in the absence of any significant crisis, either foreign or domestic, the nation seems to have become unhinged, untethered to anything positive, constructive. Basic concepts of fact-based rational thought, obvious notions of simple honesty, due process of law, logic, knowledge are cast aside as routinely as taking out the garbage. Yeats’s line “things fall apart, the center cannot hold” sounds scarily descriptive of us today. And what rough beast will come round at last? I haven’t a clue, but the possibilities don’t look good.
Weirder still, this all comes at a time when human life has never been better. To be sure, many, many people around the world suffer terribly. They suffer privation, ignorance, war, disease and despotism. But that’s always been true for many people, at times, even most of us. And yet today, on average, the most important conditions of human life have never been better and the contest is not even close. So much that makes human life better, for which past generations would have fallen on their knees in thanksgiving, has grown more and more varied, and the things that make life worse have receded. Poverty is a fraction of what it was until only recently. Likewise, malnutrition and deaths in war. By contrast, literacy, life expectancy, access to clean water and health care have skyrocketed over just a few decades. We haven’t solved our contribution to greenhouse gas emissions, but we’re on our way to doing what we can to do so. If we would only pay attention, these are literally the best of times.
Still, in the face of all that, extremist, apocalyptic rhetoric predominates. Gone is any concept that the other person is not a bitter enemy. Gone and replaced by a take-no-prisoners mentality that allows the most flagrant lying, misrepresentation and hiding of pertinent facts to flourish.
To me, it’s as if the Taoist notion of yin and yang, of darkness and light, of chaos and order, is not merely descriptive of humanity’s invariable lot, but is itself a being with power of its own that controls us. It’s as if we arrived at a time in our history when we were uniquely wealthy, at peace, egalitarian, when nothing external seriously threatened us, when order generally prevailed, and the only thing we could think to do was flee headlong into chaos, darkness.
So, instead of simply enjoying my “golden years,” I’m compelled to do what I can to stop the madness. What I can do may not be much, but I will not go to my grave saying I didn’t try. Many, many people have, for the last few years, been calling on all and sundry to stand up and be counted. And so I do.
"Defenceless under the night
Our world in stupor lies
Yet, dotted everywhere,
Ironic points of light
Flash out wherever the Just
Exchange their messages:
May I, composed like them
Of Eros and of dust
Beleaguered by the same
Negation and despair,
Show an affirming flame."
- W.H. Auden