Saturday, May 30, 2020

Speaking the Future Into Being

Well, and to think last week we were complaining that the apocalypse was boring and not very apocalypse-like.  Last night somebody set Atlanta on fire again and I learned my new favorite word, "carbeque."

As when anything important happens, we all took to Facebook to argue about it.  

For those of you struggling to keep up, please take note that hand-wringing about some windows getting broken after deafening silence on the matter of police murdering people with complete impunity, implies very strongly that you care a lot about the former and nothing for the latter, and that's what the kids call a you problem.  That doesn't mean that everyone thinks smashing things up is a-ok or that there isn't some vocal condemnation of it from activists as well as assorted officials; it does mean that they are taking the time to put what's happening in context and express some nuance, a concept you might have heard of. 
For my more conservative friends:  Most of you have already identified what the important  moral question is here. You might be fascinated to learn that some of the points you have been making lately are the exact things that people on the leftward side of the political spectrum have been saying for years, about the many other instances of police murder you inexplicably missed.  You don't know that because you don't listen to them.  You should try it.  They might know other things you haven't noticed.

For my more radical friends: You are missing a golden opportunity here. People I would NEVER have expected to do so are openly questioning that stupid coroner's report on George Floyd, out protesting, or saying that they understand why people would get mad enough to break things. Maybe instead of focusing on criticism and calling anyone who voices it nasty names (like neoliberal, which almost certainly does not mean what you think it does), you should try to, I dunno, understand the critiques people are making and seize the opportunity to make connections with people you don't often find common ground with.

Or you can go on and retrench all of your existing balkanized divisions and thwart any possibility of gaining real traction, just like every left/activist group I've seen for the last thirty years.

You know why the right-wing extremists are doing so well, despite the paucity of their philosophy and their repugnant personal traits? They recruit, constantly. They hand out flyers. They start book clubs. They take any hint of agreement and exploit it into a conversion gambit, and talk about their vision of the future a lot. It's a shitty future, but they all know what it's supposed to look like and are encouraged to actively fantasize about living in it. They plan, and sometimes take, concrete steps towards making that future come to pass.

That shit is powerful. It's a poisoned dream, but a dream nonetheless.

To counter it we can't just have the status quo (which sucks a lot for lots of people) and we can't, absolutely cannot, have a bitchy America's Got Privilege jury deciding who is or isn't woke enough to be allowed into our "movement," which because of said gate-keeping never actually becomes a movement but hovers constantly at a level just above toe shoes but below Pet Rocks.

We need something better.  We need something accessible, and welcoming, and above all visionary. Defining yourself always against what you are not creates emptiness, and fighting always against what is wrong (however necessary) is exhausting.  We need the Beloved Community, and more to the point we need to describe what the Beloved Community is going to look like.  It's ok if we don't all have the exact same ideas. It's the act of speaking it into being that is important here.

Here's one:  I would like a means to resolve serious conflicts with people when it's beyond my personal ability to address, that does not involve calling the police.  I have a neighbor who has put her hands on me while drunk more than once, among other incidents. There isn't actually a lot the police can do that isn't out of proportion to behavior that didn't actually hurt me (but which causes me distress and which I NEVER want repeated), and so there's not much between "ignore it" and "file a police report."  I think a society that took conflict resolution and de-escalation seriously would have a third option for me...and that would incidentally likely reduce times the police are called due to vague "someone is walking around black in my neighborhood" type scenarios, and in turn reduce occurrences of police violence. I also think that a society where people commonly had good conflict resolution skills would function very differently, and much more justly and humanely.

What does your Beloved Community look like?


  1. So many people don't want to speak directly to anyone they have a problem whether it's calling the HOA instead of talking to a neighbor, to calling the police when they see someone they don't know. Abdication of involvement.