Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Perspective

Like many progressives, I've been down in the dumps for much of the year, with my gloomy funk accelerating after the Brexit vote and the election of Donald Trump in the USA. Given those events, the continuing catastrophic decline of journalism, rising nationalist fervor in Europe and closer to home, plus the seeming willingness of a growing segment of the population to ignore evidence based decision making, coupled with an outright rejection of science and rising acceptance of racism and xenophobia...

...well, it's made for some sleepless nights, and I mean that almost literally. I've had nightmares about the end of civilization with a frequency I haven't endured since I was a teenager during the Cold War. It's been a long time since I've been plagued by such persistent feelings of hopeless despair.

But over the last couple of days, even in the wake of a never-ending tide of bad news, I've somehow managed to find some perspective. While I don't seek to minimize the current tide of existential threats, it soothes me a little to recall that human beings have persevered and even triumphed over circumstances almost as dire. You only have to look back less than a century, to the generation that lived through the Great Depression, through the rise of fascism in Europe and totalitarian governments in Asia, ultimately climaxing in a war that killed millions upon millions of people and practically destroyed an entire continent's infrastructure.

I wish I weren't seeing so many parallels between the world situation now and that of the 1930s. It's not much solace, except in that there was a light at the end of that long, dark tunnel. The generations before us found the light because they fought for it, literally and figuratively, at staggering cost.

Those of us who believe in human rights, science, and generally working to end human misery, have some fighting ahead of us. We have to show that progressive solutions bring the greatest happiness to the largest number of people, and we have to use arguments that the disenfranchised and the fearful will understand and embrace.

We also have to recognize, much as it pains us, that there are people of ill will who fight dirty and without remorse for their own selfish interests. I don't advocate stooping to their level. But we do have to be ready to refute their lies and bad ideas with the facts and better ideas. And we have to do it with a passion that matches - exceeds - theirs.

2016 has proven that the march of progress can be halted and even reversed. It's happened before, and maybe it's happening now. Those of us who dream of a better world for everyone can't take its arrival for granted. We have to build it, even if others want to tear it all down. 

1 comment:

Jeff Shyluk said...

George Noory (especially on Mondays, I end up listening to a lot of late-night radio as I work) had on a guest who explained that the hardest position to take these days is up the middle. If you voted Trump, you gain credibility for hating Hilary and you gain credibility for hating Trump if you're a Hilary voter (for example). The worst position, if you are interested in how the rest of western society considers you, is if you chose to support neither side. If you are pro-dialectic and anti-polemic, you will feel the scorn of both sides. It seems logical to be progressive, since both political wings have become too polarized to be able to accomplish anything past hysterical rhetoric. However, the progressive side won't get sponsors. It doesn't get social attention. At best, it's going to be a grassroots fringe.

- At least that's what Mr. Noory's guest was saying. I see your essay and I agree with parts of it easily enough, but beyond the lovely words how would a progressive make any progress in the next decade? We are in a close race to harvest the data from the Hadron Supercollider before we wipe ourselves out with the bounty from the Manhattan Project. If there's a logical and reasoned answer to this issue, I'm up for a bit of the old ultracrusade.