Phyllis Beveridge Nissila
Many people in the, now, post-election 2016 United States believe that the “sleeping giant,” as it were, finally awakened to what it/they discerned was a nation taking a dangerous transformational path, and they voted in another point of view.
However, others believe what just happened is not a good thing at all, that what the now out-voted political camp was up to was really the “best” for the nation, not the “worst”. And the news of their street-protests, some not so peaceful, indicate that certain members of that camp are “not going to take it,” as in, accept the outcome.
In this context, I am reminded of Charles Dickens’ novel set in the time of the French Revolution, A Tale of Two Cities, from which comes the “best of times/worst of times” motif, from which also comes the implicit warning that it is to our peril in any era if we accept an “us/them” mentality, or as he puts it, a “superlative degree of comparison only.”
It was the best of times, it was the worst of times (he wrote), it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way – in short, the period was so far like the present period, that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only. (Bolding, mine.)
The story is dominated by several themes related to any revolutionary period, such as, perhaps, the start of our own time of great change just now in the United States:
–the ever-present possibility of resurrection,
–the necessity of sacrifice,
–the tendency towards violence and oppression in revolutionaries *.
In other words, in times of watershed social change movements (and many are labeling this election outcome as just such a counter to the previous, “fundamental transformation” movement), whether by blood or (voting) booth, both the best and worst of human nature surface.
Righteous anger over just causes may incite violence (maybe too much, maybe not) to storm the citadels of the oppressors, but cooler heads must ultimately prevail to formulate lasting change lest we destroy each other–and then nobody wins.
So far, in the United States, given our tradition of peaceful transition of power, we have respected the outcome of the booth, for the most part. We have proceeded according to the foundational understanding that as long as we pay attention to what harms this process and take care of it legally and as peacefully as possible, in the end, the people we hire to govern this nation will understand they are accountable and act accordingly.
And, we hope, the transition will occur without the blood.
However, the kind of vitriol that has resurfaced in this nation the past several years (some even likening it to a resurgence of the kind of violence we experienced in the pre-Civil-Rights-legislation era) and the meme of “the eternal struggle” that is heard echoing in the halls of academia and the back rooms of “community organizing” groups has many concerned.
Just last night, on a C-Span program featuring social justice, global initiative, and immigrant and ethnic rights organizers, I heard them repeat that very theme. The struggle must never conclude, one speaker put it, to all around applause; we have to keep fighting.
This sounds very good, of course, on the surface.
One has to agree (and enthusiastically) at the obvious sentiment because evil never sleeps, thus, good needs to remain active.
However, in this Orwellian era of double-speak (where the Ministry of Justice is often really the Ministry of Political Correctness) and the Hegelian dialectical process (thesis/antithesis/consensus-based solution–NOT to be confused with the debate process) one is wise to give pause and think more critically.
And to study carefully the fruit of the real action that follows the academics.
Protests that were once successfully resolved by non-violence (at least by the protesters), by boycotts, by the ballot box, and by Constitutional Amendments seem now to have reverted back to violence.
Over some of the very same issues.
And why the fear, now, of protesting against the new violence and of declaring the obvious enemy to be, well the obvious enemy? Why the new concerns over speaking certain common sense truths to the powers-that-be for fear of being falsely labeled and immediately accused of being, for example, “racist,” “_____phobic (fill in the blank with a variety of options),” and so on?
Even knowing that such shame-based accusations are purposefully used to stop thought–and speaking out–doesn’t seem to have helped much, particularly, as we see what has happened to many whistle-blowers who have exposed–or were just about to expose–the hidden powers instigating some of the resurfacing social strife…
In short, what has happened to free discourse, assembly, and beliefs that used to be (another) foundational assumption of our way of governance and our way of life in these United States?
More importantly, what happened to the respect for law and for order?
I think one of the things that has happened is that we have ceased to listen to each other, and to debate the issues instead of reacting with the same “tendency towards violence and oppression” Dickens warned us about in his tale.
(As an English teacher, I also wonder if anybody teaches irony anymore, or what a true debate is all about, but those are other topics…)
Like many truly concerned citizens, I hope that during this critical “outcome season,” and beyond, that despite the tendency by some to keep us polarized (for the benefit of their own profit and/or non-profit?) and to keep ginning up strife by declaring “winners and loser,” “Republican and Democrat,” “us and them,” (for still more profit, not letting any crisis go to waste) I think we might succeed.
However, and here is the hard part, it will take that which is threaded through not only Dickens’ story, but history, as well: we will need to engage in the “sacrifice” theme, too.
By setting aside the tyranny of the urgent and the “hip, slick and cool” of “getting down with the cause” for the harder, more boring, perhaps, commitment to critical thinking, keeping our minds and hearts open to other ideas and solutions, and working together to ensure the peaceful transition parts of citizenship, of “human-being-ship,” if you will.
Which means that we all win, in the end.
It is now up to the revolutionary American “giant” newly awakened, as well as those of other beliefs about how our government should govern, in short, all of us, to determine if we stay, as Dickens implies, “in the superlative degree of comparison only,” or if we reject “us versus them,” “black versus white (figuratively and literally)” “winners/losers” mentality and “resurrect” something else that seems to have suffered greatly, of late, in this nation: the noble and messy and ever evolving (hopefully) e pluribus unum.
In short, if we want to maintain that which makes us strongest as a united front, none of us can go back to sleep.
We are wise to remember that our “enemy” is not each other, but those who would destroy us, as in those who, by dividing, would surely conquer a nation where we can evolve and have, to a large degree, done so to become a potent force in the world.
Diligence is the call to arms, now. Diligence–sometimes exciting, frequently dull, but always challenging mentally, emotionally, and at times physically, to maintain the best we can be.
Join each other?