For or against. That about says it, doesn’t it? At the Women’s March in Washington last weekend, an activist handed my friend a sticker against fascism. She took it. But then said, I don’t want this. I said, give it to me. I’m against fascism. But my friend planted a seed which I’ve seen echoed in D.C., NYC and back here in TO. To be against something, no matter how vile, means that I am putting my energy and attention into a brick wall. Into a stand-off. To be against is to lend energy to that which I do not support. Let me explain.
Almost every moment these days seems like a moment of decision. Are we going to move for or against? Whichever way we choose shapes us as individuals and as a civilized people. Life has a way of landing us in these moments. Getting spat upon by our government seems like such a moment. Today, I’m calling on myself to resist for.
To be ‘for’ is a paradox of my resistance. Being for some things implies that I am not ‘for’ some other things. That’s true. I am not for a few things. I’m not for demonization, sexual assault, white supremacy, gross inequalities of wealth and power. I’m for civilized society, human rights and dignity, self-determination, access to health care, a living wage, redistribution of wealth, responsible custodians of the public’s wealth and the body politic. I’m for certain values: compassion, trust, generosity and mutual support. Sign me up. And I expect our government to defend these publicly-held and shared values.
Look, we hired the regime to defend these core principles and values. Governments often aspire to protect these values — albeit with sometimes crushing results. One only has to look at the horrific and hostile history of U.S. government intervention domestically (Tuskegee Airmen, McCarthy, etc.) and abroad (Mexico, the Philippines, Vietnam, Iraq, etc.) to witness this. Some people mistakenly think that governments are businesses. Sounds attractive. To suckers. Governments are not businesses. They are publicly-held institutions in and of themselves. They’re here to protect and defend, not to earn and save. If you’re looking for a government run according to corporate principles to defend your voting rights or to make sure that your water is safe, you’re barking up the wrong tree. Ask the people of Flint, Michigan. While our job is to hold governments and the people in them accountable for their actions, government’s job is to protect the social pact. Hobbesian worlds have been relegated to sci-fi and the history books for a reason. We left the so-called Dark Ages (actually an age of tremendous enlightenment — but in the Asian and Arab world so it doesn’t get much press). The public ties that bind us are not only shared, publicly held values but institutionalized principles which civil society depends upon (e.g. income support, health care, public education, arts & culture, etc.). Arguably, these make it possible for us to live together at all. In the best of worlds, governments activate these core values so that we live side by side, peacefully, making our way as diverse individuals in all sorts of families and communities. A productive and constructive benefit of having our government putting our money and policies where our professed values are is no small thing. Our attention stays on each other — not on the government and its bad actors. It is sickening that the current American regime is hell-bent on destroying the ties that bind by forcing our attention from each other to the car crash unfolding in Washington and in airports the world over. But they aren’t the first and they won’t be the last.
The current U.S. government, like others before it in that country and others (Canada’s Stephen Harper, anyone?) holds as its values that we take our eyes off of each other and the concerns we share and stay tuned for the latest outrage. We are to stay repeatedly outraged. A week before the Inauguration, the terrific Andrew Solomon, President of PEN AMERICA asked the gathered hundreds to pledge to remain shocked throughout the regime’s reign of terror. I refuse. I will not be shocked by the latest outrage. I accept and resist what is happening. It is playing out exactly as was described in the campaigns, conjecture and so on. There are no surprises. I presume that Solomon was asking us to not let the outrage be normalized — as has happened through the corporate media filters of clicks-for-cash. I’m not the leftie that eats its own but the use of ‘shock’ was ill-chosen. There’s a reason that George W. Bush wished to attack the Iraqi’s in a campaign of ‘shock and awe’. It’s a saw as old as the fascist hills. Ask Mussolini. Ask Hitler. Ask Stalin. Ask Pol Pot. Their populations were driven to exhaustion and paralysis by a constant barrage of attacks of that held most dear. Left stunned and disbelieving by the dizzying spin of hatred, demonization and battles seemingly lost, we’re supposed to give up. Or fight a little less. So the old saw says.
Perhaps it comes down to point-of-view. To be against means that there are two opposing forces usually at a stand-still as they press against each other. It’s like the sole trope often informing Western literature (nod to Aristotle): conflict. With two opposing forces the energy stops as might matches might and the winner takes all. But the conflict trope misses a lot of story. We are inherently connected. We are born into families which exist in communities. No one is an island. There is no such thing as the lone cowboy. Look behind the camera, you’ll see a crew of hundreds. Look past that hill on the plain, you’ll see towns and villages waiting to have you over for dinner. That’s the America of my experience. And the Canada. And the Mexico. And the France. And the Germany. And the Luxembourg. And the…. Me against the world is a hoax, folks. That cowboy is likely a refugee from some situation where the only solution was to get out of Dodge. Lots of folks, like me, know exactly what he’s feeling. But at the end of the road we’re all climbing down from our horses. In the meantime, we’re in it. Together.
At the regime’s core, there is little ‘for’ anything. Mussolini and the current American president take great pride in the fact that they have no policies. Just trust me, they say. You’re going to love it. They aren’t ‘for’ much. And boy are they proud of it. So, you see, their ‘for’ is the epitome of ‘against’. By being ‘for’ little, they are against a lot. Against the governments they work for. Against the people who’ve charged them to govern. Against the environment. Against Life. To be ‘against’ misses the site of actual strength and resilience. Of actual power. You might think that my resistance is ‘against’. That would be a misunderstanding. For or against is not just semantics. It’s practical.
To be ‘for’ is to lend energy and support to that which we wish to thrive. It doesn’t expend scarce resources into the brick wall stand-off of opposing forces. Life moves in one direction: forward. To be for allows us to draw from the infinite sources of Life-giving sustenance. To be for is the water drop of resistance. It may not look like much but when gathered together, it’s tidal. Turning our backs. Walking around an obstacle. Governing our attention and saying no. Putting the hand up and the foot down. Drawing a line in the sand and saying “not on my watch.” To be ‘for’ isn’t about winning. It’s about Life evolving, progress- moving on. It maintains the flow of attention and energy. Energy, attention, enthusiasm and action supports an idea, a concept, a policy, an activity or even a person. And, it lasts. Anyone who goes for a run or an invigorating walk will testify to the lasting energy created. Energy is created when we are ‘for’ the people in our lives and the communities in which we are embedded. To be ‘for’ implies resistance. It is using one’s energy and attention in support of — not to eliminate or destroy anything.
We are going to have to maintain a tsunami-like force on this regime, and what comes after, for years. Probably decades. We have to pace ourselves. The regime is going to be lobbing fireballs at us from just about every quarter. Imagine a wave or current heading for a shoreline. A wave swamps whatever it washes over. But it not only washes over, it moves around and behind as it subsumes whatever is in its path. It undermines and displaces things long-held in place. Its sheer breadth and force has the laws of physics behind it. Which is good for those of us facing a science-denying regime. By keeping our attention on what we are for our resistance will strengthen. Take heart, to be ‘for’ science and critical discourse ensures that we will prevail. To be ‘for’ that which amplifies and celebrates the human’s capacity to thrive means our story ain’t never going to be over. We aren’t going anywhere. We will not back down. The fundamental paradox of being ‘for’ while in fierce resistance guarantees it.
Go for it.