Sunday, November 7, 2010
The Obliterating Arc of Hope and Optimism in Suicidal Times (2)
I am still very much in process with Desmond Tutu's assertion that "there is no question at all that good and laughter and justice will prevail," and that "the perpetrators of oppression or injustice will bite the dust"--trying to decide whether or not it is valid assumption to make. On the issue of how to remain optimistic when realistically everything is sliding towards collapse, hearing what my friends have to say has been both enlightening and rewarding. It's not that I don't know the reasons for optimism being the better path, I do. But I also struggle with the power of emotional truth, in terms of what I see happening wherever I look. For me, the struggle is between an optimism I mostly don't feel, and a pessimism I can't intellectually support. It's like riding a bus that is likely to leave its passengers lying dead by the side of the road, and hoping to figure out a way to be positive and philosophical about it.
"In truth, everybody’s is right and nobody knows anything. Derrick Jensen is right that we’re fucked, Tutu is right that goodness will prevail. You are right to worry. And I am right to see things in the context of very vast pictures. For instance, at this very second people are being tortured somewhere, and elsewhere people are having fantastic orgasms looking into each other's eyes...planets are being born and stars are blowing apart... some people have behaved in magnificent ways to one another, and at the same time...[others] have been cold, punitive, destructive to one another. Tears of sorrow and tears of joy flowing, flowing all of the time...This world, the big-picture world, is forever in states of flux of dark and light, forever turning itself inside out through both creation and destruction. Sometimes we find ourselves in the midst of the destruction: it’s in the nature of things. Why shouldn’t we? Who are we to escape that part of the universe forever? Every polarity we can think of love-hate, light-darkness, good-evil, miraculous-impossible, is always simultaneous in the whole. It’s all flickering and flowing and moving as one and we are part of that. It’s all congruent and necessary. Nobody really knows what’s what and that reality is our common ground—it crosses all lines. Here we are in the great mystery together, laugh or cry." [From my friend Jari Chevalier, who lives in New York. To read the entirety of Jari's response, visit Jari Chevalier, host: Living Hero podcast, NYC]
"I do think it’s important from a philosophical perspective to remain as compassionate as possible towards those with different beliefs or perspectives. I’ll take the two competing rallies that have occurred during this election cycle as proof. I think generally Jon Stewart’s Rally to Restore Sanity had it right, and is pushing for a return to civility and open-minded discourse; I think generally Glenn Beck’s Rally to Restore Honor had it wrong, pushing for an awakening of the worst reactionary impulses in our citizenry. I certainly think that the leaders of these rallies can be categorized that easily: Stewart seems to me to be responsible and fair, whereas Beck does come across as a irrational fear monger... So while I think that a Jon Stewart or an Obama is mostly good and that a Glenn Beck or a John Boehner is mostly not good, I also think that there is a little bit more Jim Crow in some Democrats and, much more importantly, a little bit more Desmond Tutu in some Republicans than it might seem. I know from my time at Pepperdine that many people with archconservative positions on certain political issues and a very evangelical Christian perspective can be the nicest people in the world...I think that people have both Jim Crow and Desmond Tutu. Politics is an ugly business, and maybe not the best place to hope to see the better angels of our nature, though we do have people working hard in that arena to make that more the case. But I think that we see it best on a smaller scale, when organized greed and such doesn’t have the ability to put up a smokescreen. You and I can say that we prefer the Desmond Tutu part of humanity and work towards it, and I think that the vast majority of people would say the same. There is a fundamental decency in the world, and even if there are ideological or irrational barriers that prohibit that from being expressed all the time, that just makes cultivating that decency on a grassroots level all the more important." [From Emerson Siegle, my friend Jane Vance's son, now in his first year of graduate law school at UVA in Charlottesville, VA]
"I tell myself the story that what goes around, comes around...all things considered, the cosmos seeks balance. This helps me roll out of bed in the morning... Balance may really exist everywhere, even in politics and in acts of inhumane behavior, but we simply do not have the visual or mental capacity to see it at once...perhaps over time if we live long enough? Finally, I take comfort in the thought that, even in the midst of the most dire straits, our capacity to 'create' or 'imagine' (in the sense that Jacob Bronowski meant) sets us apart, not just from other species, but from our own despair." [From Mitzi Vernon, a friend living in Blacksburg]
There is an old Chinese maxim, which states that "people in the same boat help each other, sharing weal and woe." Soliciting the opinions and thoughts of my wonderful friends has certainly helped me defray some of the cynicism I feel about human nature, and it has somewhat alleviated my resentment toward the spoilers.
The lesson I take away from all this is that optimism in dark times doesn't necessarily mean not seeing what is right before your eyes. It doesn't have to mean a denial of what is going on. Keeping your inner Tinker Bell alive, even when things are as difficult and disappointing as they are now, is worthwhile if only because "a merry heart doeth good like a medicine." And that certainly beats out "eat, drink, and be merry, for tomorrow you get stabbed, poisoned, or thrown off the edge of a cliff." (This last comment is stolen from a New Yorker review by Anthony Lane, of Claude Chabrol's movies and how they instruct us.)
I could stop here, but I am going to leave the last words for my friend Elizabeth Indianos, who lives in FLA. She also sent me the photo above, which she took at Jon Stewart's rally:
"I can do more to solve the problems in the world by refusing to add low-energy thoughts of hate or disgust to the circumstances around us...In my own mind at least, good and evil are cyclical, not either/or. They compete, are fluctuating iotas, variables that ebb and flow--so do your Mother Teresa best. Pick a side. Stick to it and steer in the direction of the infinite power of the universe, no matter what."