Saturday, 20 March 2010


WARNING: This is a very emo post.

Maybe it's because I'm ill, but I'm feeling distressed and melancholy.

I finished reading The Wayfinders today and then picked up Carrie, which I had somehow never read before. I have also finished this. And then I saw this video posted on someone's blog. I spoke with my mother this morning about people protesting and get emotional over such idiotic things as inadvertant ethnic slights at a university, spending their energy protesting a minor social injustice when they could instead be spending that energy aiding the very major social injustice of poverty rampant in the very city they live in. Just now I connected that with this entry in "Stuff White People Like." As a result, I am seeing a decided lack of hope in the world right now.

The Wayfinders tries to end optimistically; even while discussing the horrific and irrevocable environmental destruction that we have loosed upon the world, Davis points to extra-modern cultures as exemplars of living with the environment (as opposed to "off" it, vampirically). His book explores the worldviews of vanishing and marginalized peoples, showing the incredible feats of imagination and technique that exist in these cultures. For instance, for as long as there have been Polynesian people, they have been honing the arts of nautical navigation. When Rome was at its height, the Polynesian culture was already old. While we have been spending the centuries since the Enlightenment developing our technological and scientific prowess, they have been learning to navigate the waves. The techniques they have developed are mind-boggling. Davis reminds us that these people are no less intelligent than we are, so just try to imagine what we could have accomplished if we had focused all of the creative intellect that we have on space travel, architecture, theoretical physics, and nanotechnical instead on other things, like, in the case of the Polynesians, traveling the open seas in a canoe. Of course the results would be stunning. Davis asks us to look at these cultures as alternatives to our own domineering and progress-crazy ethic. Perhaps, he says, these peoples can tell us something about living in the world in such a way that we won't strip it entirely of resources in the next century.

But as I read his book, I am overwhelmed by the damage already done. Can we turn it around in time? I don't know. I'm afraid we can't. I'm afraid our culture is already too strong. Maybe I'm wrong. Hopefully I'm wrong. Because I don't want to think of the consequences of being right.

And I'm as bad as anyone. What am I doing? Will turning off the lights when I leave a room count for anything in the grand scheme of things? Will bringing cloth bags to the grocery store and carpooling and buying used really make a difference? And will writing songs about social justice make a difference? I seriously doubt that writing a Letter to the Editor will. I seriously doubt that the sort of ivory-tower activism we see in university, which is little more than shouting from a soapbox, will make any difference at all. Perhaps, though, I am just being negative today.

I mentioned reading Carrie. King often includes "religious crazies" in his books, such that one would get a very skewed idea of religion if you got it soley from his novels. But I cannot deny that these people exist. Just the other day I was reading a blog about "TrueManhood" (if you Google that, I'm sure you'll find the blog) which has some pretty scary posts. One commenter, in particular, was talking about keeping his guns close at hand, because the time for revolution might not be far. This is in response to Obama's health care plan. In general I am loathe to agree with anything Dawkins says, but in one case I think he's right: religion, at least in some forms, can lead to a permanent shut-down in thinking. When you deal with these "religious crazies," whether violent or otherwise, it's impossible to reason with them or reach some sort of compromise. Most people of any faith are willing to put aside differences so we can live together in peace, but there are some who won't. What do we do with them? How can we deal with the members of our own community who actively prevent peace, either by espousing violence or by treating other people in ways that provokes violence? How do we deal even with the common ignorances of our communities? (I once had a fellow Christian explain to me that Zoroastrians worship fire and believe that God is both good and evil. I tried to explain that the Zoroastrian priest I spoke to neither worshipped fire nor believed that God was evil--these were two misconceptions that he was very quick to dispell--but she was unconvince; she'd read this from a Missionary's Guide to Other Religions that her folks had given her, and that was good enough for her. The scary thing is, she's a sweet girl and has the best intentions.)

I know that I need to have faith; I know I need to believe that in the end, all will be righted. But right now, I do not see this hope anywhere. Even those "inspirational" songs, movies, and books just seem like a waste of resources better spent on directly helping the poor or the endangered or the repressed; that, or a piece of bubblegum stopping a bursting dam. Nowhere near enough.

I suppose that the soapbox-shouting, the inspirational songs, and the activism then do have some sort of function: if anything is going to change, we need pretty much everyone on board, which requires education and persuasion. So in the end I guess I need to write books that will make a difference, just as much as others need to make those movies or write those songs. We can't all write books and make movies, but we do not need to get more people on board.

As the Israelites stood at the edge of the Promised Land, inhabited by giants, they were overcome with hopelessness. So, too, I imagine, did the hearts of the Polish Jews sink when they were hiding in forest huts, surrounded by the Nazis; so, too, did Sheppard likely feel overwhelmed by the task of freeing the people of the Congo from Leopold's rubber machine, and the Athenians against the Persian assault. I pray that, even in my discouragement, I do not despair, that I do not lose the urge to strive nonetheless.

I pray that I even figure out how I can help, what I'm supposed to do.

EDIT: I've supposedly set this blog up so it will direct you to posts which have linked to mine, but it doesn't actually do that. So here I'm doing it manually. Take it away for Karen! (Her name is the link.)


Christian H said...

Of course, part of my melancholy likely results from the guilt-baggage I'm still dragging around from highschool, which has been kindly taken out of storage by Mr. King's novel. How I didn't see that coming, I don't know.

mskarenau said...

Christian, this hits the nail on the head for me. I am torn by these moments of hopelessness all the time, especially lately. There is so much pain lying everywhere with no one to fix it. And we can only do so much.

But I've vowed that I would do something, ANYTHING. In contributing to the collective conscious, we are doing our part.. even just a bit. We have to believe that.

yolanda said...

"I pray that, even in my discouragement, I do not despair, that I do not lose the urge to strive nonetheless.

I pray that I even figure out how I can help, what I'm supposed to do."


i want to respond to this post intelligently and coherently, from where i am now, and where i've been. but tonight, coming home after a very long weekend of traveling with work i'm finding it hard to find the right words and phrases.

yolanda said...

Christian H said...


Lest you all think I'm a real emo or something, you should read more recent posts and immediately previous posts and so forth. I'm really fairly chipper, though that ought to be distinguished from optimistic or enthusiastic.

Kathleen@so much to say, so little time said...

I agree with you that most attention paid to social justice is useless posturing. No doubt about it. But I also believe that we have to affect the world in whatever small way we can; that's all that God is going to hold us accountable for. So in that case, it *is* worth bringing bags to the grocery store, turning the lights off, etc. And who knows in what small ways we may be the pebble that starts the avalanche?

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