Pur Autre Vie

I'm not wrong, I'm just an asshole

Wednesday, November 09, 2016

History Is Happening Here

I wrote some doggerel about history a few years ago, and some of the lines are resonating in my mind.  The poem was called "History Has a Way of Happening in Korea," and one of the ideas I tried to express was that imperialism is "the decision that history should happen somewhere else."

Well, history has come home to the United States of America.  It is happening here now.  I want to write a little bit about what that means to me.  One of the most noxious and dangerous ideas (all the more noxious and dangerous for its partial truth) is that we are living in a Whig history, that progress happens automatically, that some kind of social Moore's Law impels us along a track that leads to justice and prosperity.  That history moves in one direction and not the other.  That we need barely lift a finger.

Koreans know better.  Japanese know better.  They know the many ways that societies can tumble into darkness, the rise to power of terrible people, the sudden flash of a nuclear bomb.  Here, though, to a large degree we got lucky and congratulated ourselves for it.  History happened, but it mostly happened somewhere else.  And when it happened here, we almost always moved forward.  We built our institutions and our apartment buildings and our fucked up bridges, and we indulged the illusion that history ratchets, that it only moves one way.

Well it's moving the other way now.  Now we will be tested.  In our imaginations the North could not have lost, LBJ could not have failed to push the Voting Rights Act and the Civil Rights Act into law.  That is false.  Hundreds of thousands died to end slavery and liberals had to fight like hell to protect blacks.  In Catch-22, Yossarian wants the Allies to win but he doesn't want to be the one doing the dying.  But someone had to die.

Now we are called on to gather our wits and preserve what we can.  We are called to the struggle.  "The bridge must not fall down."  Our fight isn't going to require us to risk death, but it is going to require courage and insight and perseverance.  We must see clearly and we must stand firm.

I don't know what will be asked of us, exactly.  But the upheaval is here, and we have to be ready to do what we can and what we must.


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