Monday, November 14, 2016

2.3 - We have to accept the possibility of failure

We have to accept the possibility of failure

And yet and yet and yet - we face the continuing advances of the reactionaries, marked not only by GOPper control of the White House, the Congress, and potentially through that the Supreme Court, but also by on-going gains at the state level. This year the GOPpers had a net gain of at least two governorships and gained at least two state legislatures and now control all the political branches of state government in more than half the states. By comparison, the Dims so control just five.

In the face of such continuing advances, in the face of the sexism and racism that have been revealed and justified by this campaign, revelations that have not lead to their being rejected but to their being embraced and even celebrated, in the face of the sheer enormity of the task, we must face the fact that for the foreseeable future, for as far out as at least I can imagine, that all our efforts may - and I am stealing something from William Rivers Pitt here - all our efforts may come to nothing.
We are down to the ethic of total opposition [he wrote], and as lonely as that estate may be, it is what we have, and we owe it to those who have suffered beyond our comprehension to continue as we began.

I refuse to concede defeat in any way, shape or form. Yet I must consider the possibility that all efforts will come to naught.
Pitt reminded us of a scene in "The Lion in Winter." As Geoffrey, John, and Richard await their executioners, Richard demands that they face the end with strength. Geoffrey scoffs at him, saying "You fool. As if it matters how a man falls."

Richard's reply is telling: "When the fall is all that's left, it matters."

Even at our lowest moments, even when we just want to give up, pack it in, and move to a commune or to Canada - or to a commune in Canada - we have to remember that even in failing, the manner in which we fail matters. Even in falling, the manner in which we fall matters. It matters, that is, it matters for the future, for the longer term than we can perceive, it matters whether our failure is marked by despair or by defiance.

Henry David Thoreau, in his classic essay "On Civil Disobedience," wrote:
I know this well, that if one thousand, if one hundred, if ten men whom I could name - if ten honest men only - ay, if one HONEST man, in this State of Massachusetts, ceasing to hold slaves, were actually to withdraw from this copartnership, and be locked up in the county jail therefor, it would be the abolition of slavery in America. For it matters not how small the beginning may seem to be: what is once well done is done forever.
Of course he did not mean, as some seeking to dismiss him have, that such an act would mean the instant end of slavery. Rather, he meant that a seed would have been planted that would eventually, ineluctably, lead to slavery's demise. "What is once well done is done forever" because even if it failed to stop slavery at once, the manner of failing mattered.

None of what we do is for nothing. Because immediate victory is not the only end worth achieving; what can be won now is not the only cause worth fighting for; even being able to see victory in the future is not the only reason for keeping up the struggle. It is also for ourselves, for our own integrity. A member of the anti-Stalinist Russian group Memorial, founded by Yevgeny Yevtushenko and Andrei Sakharov, said
I do what I do because I owe it to my family, to the victims of my country's injustices, and for my own honor.
Or as Wendell Berry put it,
[p]rotest that endures is moved by a hope far more modest than that of public success: namely, the hope of preserving qualities in one's own heart and spirit that would be destroyed by acquiescence.
Or perhaps you would find Abraham Lincoln's observation the most telling version*:
To sin by silence when they should protest makes cowards of men.
We owe it to others; we owe it to the victims, who have suffered more than we can know; we owe it to the victims who in the days to come will suffer more than we can know; we owe it to ourselves; we are honor-bound, even when we feel discouraged, especially when we feel discouraged, we are honor-bound by justice to carry on as best as we can.

So for now and for the future, the issue, I say to you (and to myself, for that matter), is not "What can I do?" It's "Am I doing what I can?" Perhaps that only amounts to a little, to what can seem so trifling as to not matter, but matter it does.

We are each of us as individuals called, required by what is right, required by the call of justice, to do what we can. No one can expect more of us - but we should expect nothing less of ourselves.

And if despite all, we fail? Then we fail. When Dylan Thomas's father was old, the poet felt the old man, so energetic in his younger days, had given up on life and was just passively waiting to die. Saddened and distressed, Thomas cried out to his father

    Do not go gentle into that good night,
    Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
    Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

We do live in a darkening time, a time being marked not by failure to advance but rather by the cold prospect of failure to hold on to the little that has been gained, a time not of standing still but of sliding backwards. So yes, we may fail - or at least seem to because true victory (and getting Hillary Clinton elected would not be such a victory) is far enough off that we will not be able to see its approach.

While I think that unlikely (the title of my blog, after all, includes the phrase "surviving a dark time"), I have to admit that such failure is possible. But that possibility makes it even more important that we do not go gentle into that good night but that we rage, rage, against the dying of the light.

I hope to see you in the streets.

*I have since learned that the actual source is a poem by Ella Wheeler Wilcox.

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