Don’t Tune Out.
Every day has its share of bad news, but some are definitely tougher than others. When you wake up to find that a story has broken about the sexual exploitation of young gymnasts; that the incoming cabinet officials possess more wealth than a third of combined American households, in part because more than one in ten American households have zero or negative wealth; that the R.N.C.C. took advantage of information leaked by Russian sources for political advantage, while simultaneously stating that the interference by an foreign nation was “unacceptable” ; that the reason you may not have heard about that scandal is that we’re already dealing with Russian influence on the Presidential election; meanwhile Aleppo has fallen to the Assad regime, and while a tenuous ceasefire is in place, it comes only after years of destructive conflict and with no assurances for protections for those on the losing side. These are but a sliver of today’s injustices, without mention of larger trends towards extremist right-wing movements across Europe, the seemingly never-ending human right’s abuses in North Korea, and the continuing anxiety about a conflict between NATO countries and Russia.
You wake up, stare all that down, and a mental fight-or-flight process takes place. Do you consume this documentation of human cruelty or let the challenges of the life immediately around you be enough for today? There is a lifeline to be found in ignorance, and an argument for it, as anxiety over events outside of one’s control does nothing to change those events. But there is also undeniable power in knowledge and perhaps the only thing that would make these tragedies worse is for them to continue on, left unknown and unattended.
The problem with this entire paradigm however is that choice in this matter is an illusion. When it comes to human right’s abuses, national politics, and war, the question is not if you’ll be affected but simply when. The danger then is that tuning out now may mean that when the moment comes and one is swept up into this chaos of human frailty, there won’t be time to assemble facts and construct philosophies. That’s the intrinsic liability of a policy of “wait and see” — often by the time the future is seen, it is too late to make the changes needed to prevent the now inevitable results. So if you find yourself asking why people are already riled up about Trump’s policies concerning NATO, it’s because one of the risks of wait and see in this arena is Russian aggression that results in large scale global conflict. Once that starts and the wheels are turning, discussions become actions and options for peace grow distant quickly.
The U.S. became an all-volunteer military force just over 40 years ago. For someone in their mid-twenties such as myself, war has remained a spectator activity. At times I’ve found myself wondering if we’ve moved past the potential for truly large scale military conflict. An existence under a policy of mutually assured destruction is a bizarre one, as peace by way of intimidation isn’t really much of a peace at all, but still seems preferable to any realistic alternative. It becomes easy to think that, as bad as things may look and despite hardships that will need to be endured, it could never really get that bad (it must be said here that I am a middle class white male, the most insulated of American society). It is this vantage point that drives so much of the frustration of those who see Trump’s victory as legitimate, and the current outcries against him as rooted in partisanship.
It is difficult to stay attentive to a world that continues to succumb to hatred and distrust. Seeing the brutal results of humanity’s cruelty is taxing, even from a distance. But we must remember that when we find ourselves feeling amazed the world we’ve constructed hasn’t fallen completely apart, that means that the potential for it do so remains. As Americans, many of us live in a largely peaceful world of doldrums and consistency. We take that for granted every day of our lives. It is vital that we remember that people are at their most rational when their basic needs are satiated. When those needs are left unmet, when hope starts to slip away, we begin reaching for new solutions and desperation can take hold.
Look at the state of the Russian economy. There is hope that it will rebound soon, but if it doesn’t, people will become only increasingly open to pathways for their needs being met. It is not a large leap in logic to see that Vladimir Putin is making moves to secure his country’s relevance and power worldwide via new forms of warfare, most obviously right now through electronic manipulation of U.S. intelligence. Perhaps he sees a path where animosity is stoked, nationalism continues to rise, and right-wing extremism can take hold around the planet without shots being fired.
If that doesn’t work, we need to be prepared for what the alternatives may be. Dictators do not typically go gently into the night and desperate people do unpredictable things. So please, do not stop paying attention and do not fall for the illusion that these matters don’t concern you. And more than anything else, never stop demanding more information, more transparency, and more accountability from those in power. Many of us have made nice lives partially up the pyramid of prosperity, but make no mistake, if the lower levels of that pyramid that we have built upon fall apart, your world will come crashing down just the same.