It was a kind of revelation when in one of my afternoon meditations I blinked on to the simple philosophical idea that if one wishes to bake a cake (for instance) one must believe that they can bake a cake! I say this of course because I saw the obvious problem, that if you don’t think you can bake a cake you will not even bother with trying.
I, along with the rest of you, watch my country and a good portion of the world falling further and further into the pits of corruption and the ruins of despair. The up-coming 2020 election is one example of the dire-straits we are in and the overwhelming sense of hopelessness that many people, self-included, are feeling. The anxiety induced by this absurd presidential election before us is of course only one element of the over-all sense of dread that hangs over a world facing the whole list of catastrophic possibilities that we live with in these “interesting times.”
Stuck as we are in these “interesting times” we must, as all those who came before us had to do, live on somehow. Whether it’s a curse or a blessing to live in some particular time there simply is no escaping it, outside of death itself, and so for the living there must be some hope.
So back to the cake, or leaving that metaphor behind, back to the nation, because we wouldn’t want to think that our present condition calls for a cake when it so clearly calls for a nation, a nation that is something more than a pit of vipers, an alligator swamp or (you may insert whichever image you prefer here that would describe “our country” best for you). The country, as has been well described elsewhere, is in trouble, as it sometimes less obviously always has been in one way or another. Starting a great experiment in democracy on stolen land with the blood of natives and the torture of Africans in your hearts and on your hands is a perfect concoction of disease for poisoning an experiment in democracy, no matter how grand, anywhere and at any time. It is, however, the American way. It was from the beginning and remains so today, as the U.S. has expanded its colonial ambitions to include not just the continent but well, to be honest, the world.
Coming from such a past as ours, while also having the picture of America as the greatest story ever told constantly pounded into every Americans head, creates a kind of national schizophrenia. We become dis-oriented, delusional, full of anxiety, fear, uncertainty and depression in our collective attempt at living as the exceptional ones when we know, and increasingly so, that we are not. As hard as this is we are further bombarded with a narrative posed as an obligation, that tells us that we must be exceptional even when we find ourselves watching the nation crash and burn, while as a special bonus having to choose between a life managed by either a lesser evil or a greater evil. It is absolutely amazing how well we are holding-up under such conditions, conditions referred to by some as being “nightmarish.”
As our human condition devolves and our sins, or crimes, if you prefer that word, here at home and around the world come back to haunt us–as the works of our exploitative and careless nation begin manifesting themselves in ways that are affecting, not just the usually exploited, racially different minorities in our country, but the whole of U.S. society, in fact the whole world–we find that some of those things that we thought separated us are actually things we hold in common, and that maybe, just maybe we might (some of us that is) also rise-up to that simple truth that we so easily ignore: That although we exist in a number of various situations, at some unavoidable points we find that sure enough we are all in this together. And as many of us also know, it is that simple truth that can free us from the plagues of our collective mental illness, our depression, and our inability to move forward to insure our own survival in this most interesting of times.
“It is horrifying that we have to fight our own government to save our environment,”
Ansel Adams… So it was in Mr. Adams’ time and so it remains to this day. I’m sure that anyone who has worked for the cause of social, environmental or economic justice can tell you, anyone who’s stood in a picket or marched in a protest or petitioned their government can tell you of the frustration expressed in these words. That the government of a people could be the greatest obstacle to their well-being is absurd and untenable, the stuff of all revolutions. From a hot and contentious debate in your own town’s city hall over some zoning abuse, to the shores of the Missouri River in South Dakota where the people fought to protect the water from the Keystone pipeline we find that however absurd; it is and has been, a constant struggle.
Today, our most urgent calls to survival would include proper management of the corona virus outbreak and something we see connected to the outbreak in the strangest of ways, the terroristic insurgencies we see popping-up all over the country lately in the name of ending the precautions of social distancing and isolation, precautions put in place in an effort to stop the virus from spreading too far too fast.
That we would find ourselves in conflict with our government over the management of the virus or the management of far-right mercenaries in this or any other time is outrageous yet here we are, and it’s what we must face. When the survival and well-being of a nation, when life and death hang on the thin thread of surviving a disease or perhaps even worse, a civil war carried out by crazed militants against a generally peaceful population, we find in the awful absurdity of that moment a bit of rope or some bit of hope to hang on to, the hope being that most people, sensible or otherwise value their lives enough to not want to perish in a pandemic or a civil war. This then, this bit of rope can and must be used to pull some strength and unity of purpose back into the country or as Lincoln warned us before when speaking of unity, we will not stand.
As it is our very own government that is pushing both the mismanagement of the virus and the divisions manufactured to produce a rupture in our social network, we can, at least some can, see our common enemy up close and clear. What is needed is a clear explanation, a strong and precise message or some obvious picture of what that common enemy is doing to us and to our nation some thing or event that will spell out, without a doubt, that no matter which side of the political fence you’re on, your own life and well-being are in danger and not from your neighbor but from your government.
For those who know and understand this, the job then is to try to relay the message to the others, the others that we are going through this with. They see their world falling apart just as you or I do, and they are scared, conflicted, and falling into a depression of their own, within the parameters of their own understanding. This is that can-do, cake-baking moment that I started off with, coming back around. One of the words on the street and in our homes that we use in description of this time is the word despair, and, yes, we must face it. But still that sense of, can we say “American optimism” runs thick in our veins as well as in our hearts and in our minds, and to survive we must hold onto it. Regardless of how impossible our situation may appear today, as long as we believe that we can, we may find our way through this important time and onto some less mentally challenging, some less terrifying time.
To give up hope now is to perish. We must turn to our neighbor, no matter our carefully constructed differences, and find a way to fully realize that what insures your survival and peace of mind is the same thing that insures their survival and peace of mind. Of all the possible lessons and outcomes of this time, it is our commonality above all else that holds the key to not just some form of survival but to the actual prosperity, freedom and well-being that we once believed was not only possible, but our right.