Thursday, December 15, 2016

Thoughts on The Circus

History has always fascinated me. We are living through history in the making, a white water rapid in the river of civilisation. Someone on CBC radio compared our time to the European Renaissance, when one social order was making way for another. Interesting to read about, but not easy to live through. It is now more than a month after the end of what we have been calling The Circus, and what an ending it was. I have been spending hours on the iPad compulsively reading about USA politics.

It is not my country, for which I am grateful. Nevertheless I live right next door, within easy reach of the grasp of Empire, should that empire decide to grasp what it wants by more direct means than the current arrangement. Think water. We Canadians may take comfort in being a kinder, gentler nation, but let's not kid ourselves. The standing joke is that when the USA sneezes Canada gets pneumonia. The best we can hope for is the kind of relationship Finland has with its giant neighbour to the East. Like it or not, we both have to pay homage and attention to the great power next door.

Early on I decided to not waste energy on the insanity of a months long campaign. We skipped the endless ponderings of the pundits during the primaries, though we did feel the Bern. I rarely watch those stupid debates, with the media standing by to pounce on the slightest misstep as a "gotcha" moment. Once our favourite socialist was defeated I mainly paid attention to the dilemmas of my online friends in the USA, most of whom are not Republicans. Hold your nose and vote Democrat or say enough of this corrupt bunch and go Green?

Interestingly some thinkers whose opinion I value were happy with the outcome, mainly because they wanted to shake up the status quo. There was some approval of Trump's supposedly populist stance on certain issues. I think it was Dmitri Orlov who posted a video segment of Trump that could have been lifted from a Sanders speech. Also, quite a few people worried about poking the bear and applauded Trump's better relations with Putin.

Anyway, now that the die has been cast I find myself wondering how to behave in the face of possible tyranny. At this moment demonstrations are a waste of energy at best and counterproductive at worst if they degenerate into riots. Besides, the time to be active is during an election campaign and you just had one, duh! Then there is the need to maintain civil relations with people on the opposite side of the political spectrum. I wrote this on Facebook.

"I just found out that an internet friend who I admire for her big heart and fortitude in the face of a tough life is delighted with the outcome of the USA election. This person is the farthest thing from a bigoted racist you can imagine. She is a beautiful loving soul and I will not hear a bad word about her, Trump or no Trump. Let us maintain love above all. Avoid stereotypes. Don't let the haters win."

I have often reflected on how I would have behaved during the early years of the Nazi occupation in my native Netherlands. Good and evil are easy to tell apart with the brilliance of hindsight, especially after winners and losers have been sorted out. It is not so easy while you are in the middle of things. Imagine yourself there, in 1940. Of course you hate the occupation, but it has become a fact of life. For all you know it might last a few centuries. It is my nature to avoid conflict, and I tend to think the best of people. I might well have been a compromiser, thinking perhaps I might be able to do some good on the inside. I might have been chastised as a collaborator after the war.

Times are tough all around and not likely to get better any time soon. For many reasons that we will not get into here, it will never be 1970 anymore. I may have been spending too much time in collapsenik circles, and I alo just reread 1984. Not cheery. 

I have no idea what to suggest to any young person coming of age right now. Who knows what the future holds? In twenty years we may solve the energy crisis, learn how to live together, collect all the best from all traditions and cultures, and be on our way to a Star Trek world. Yeah, right. See those pretty flying pigs in the pink sky? Or the most vital skill may be knowing which warlord to suck up to. So much for the wisdom of elders.

All I can come up with this is this.
Above all: KEEP THINKING. Connect to your heart and gut as well as your brain. If a small voice inside whispers something feels off, pay attention to it. Ask it to speak up and explain.

Decide what your values are and defend them, regardless of who is attacking them. The enemy of your enemy may be evil. A drone strike ordered by Obama is no less deadly than one ordered by Bush. A pipeline built by charming, spouting all the right words Justin Trudeau is no less damaging than one built by dour mr. Harper.

Be careful what you wish for regarding laws that inhibit freedom of speech or assembly. Apply the same standards to your own side and to your opponent's. 

James Pfeiffer once drew a great cartoon. A man in a pinstripe suit and a hippie are chatting in a bar. Both agree that under certain conditions limits to free speech may be warranted. Says the hippie: "Exactly! And that is why I say that in Cuba...." Man in suit exclaims: "Cuba? I thought we were talking about the United States!" Horrified they turn away from each other.

Be vigilant. Beware the frog in boiling water effect, but don't get carried away by slippery slope fallacies either. 
See people as individuals first, and let the individual decide to which extent she wants to define herself as member of a group.
Avoid blindly climbing on bandwagons. Pay frequent visits to fact check sites before posting the latest meme on social media.

When the big world goes nuts and institutions start failing or grow rapacious, do what you can where you are to make a better world. Funny. I can think myself into a tizzy and I keep coming back to my mantra.

Be Here Now. Cultivate the Garden. Just Be Kind.

P.S. This excellent article in Yes Magazine says it all.


Jacqui Binford-Bell said...

I think the biggest danger of a Trump victory is complacency. I asked a friend today the dreaded question: "Is this what you wanted when you voted for him." And he said so far. Knowing why he voted for Trump I think he has not been listening to what he is doing. We won. We get what we want. And like you pointed out with the minimum wage I think they are wrong.

Meanwhile us, who did not vote for him, are all too aware of the nightmare and very scattered about what we can do to avoid disaster. My sister gave me the don't move to Canada speech today. I decided to give 10% of all art sales to the Sierra Club to help save public lands. And trying to figure out a monthly donation I can live with for the ACLU. Maybe include them in my will.

I am afraid that he will start a nuclear war. There is no donation I can make to avoid that. Or we will be invaded by some country (Russia) who wants our oil.

Interesting you call it The Circus. Did I mention Stephen King and IT made me very afraid of clowns.

Ien in the Kootenays said...

Actually, some of the thoughtful people who were happy with Trump were afraid of Hillary starting war with Russia. Russia has her own oil, never mind that. You might want to read this.
Otherwise, indeed, it is time for people of our persuasion to think of how we can limit the damage.