Sunday, November 20, 2016

A Call to Disarm

I've spent the last ten days, like most people who care about this type of thing, trying to make sense of what seems to be the prevailing, completely perverse order of things. I furiously hit refresh on the New York Times home page that fateful day, refusing to believe the numbers stacking up. I've scrolled through anguished Facebook and Instagram posts, devoured election post-mortems by some of the world's cleverest people, leafed through The Economist's even-handed (though subtly quivering) assessment of a world soon to be presided over, notionally at least, by President Trump. 

As an Indian citizen who lives halfway across the world, and who expects her country to get along as well with the United States as it ever has, I've got to say it - this was never about Donald Trump. It was about the fundamental social contract people around the world are brought up to believe in - that all of us have more in common than we know; that people are often much better than they seem; that decency matters; that the least we should expect from our leaders is the pretence, if nothing else, of aforementioned decency.

That contract stands nullified.  

And the response to its nullification has been rage - mournful rage from those whose candidate lost, and vindictive, gleeful rage from those whose candidate won. In the immediate aftermath of these elections, Twitter in particular and social media in general have become echo chambers amplifying our collective breast-beating/chest thumping. 

And in these divisive times, it's clear that the one thing that unites us all is the contempt and disdain to which we feel so entitled. I am - surprise, surprise - what would be considered liberal, and what I consider being basically reasonable. And though I hate to admit it, I am sensing a strain of finger-wagging superiority in much of the liberal commentary, the scold behind the seams of each sentence, just waiting to excoriate. To paraphrase a line from Will McAvoy's memorable rant in the opening episode of 'The Newsroom,' - 'If democrats are always right, how come they lose all the time?' They don't lose all the time, but I get it. 

And yet righteousness is so much the lesser evil when ranged alongside the nasty's-the-new-honest discourse of the right. Because what better way to rebuke anyone who thinks they're better than you than to revert to one's basest instincts? Bullying, name-calling, gutter-sniping, death threats, rape threats, digital beheadings - what's a little pathology between political combatants? 

That is what this has become. Fanned by the hungry flames of 24x7 cable news media, politics is neither about argument or disagreement but more of a no-holds barred dogfight in which one side keeps claiming the moral high ground while the other furiously lunges at its jugular. Everyone - and I mean everyone - is angry, issuing battle cries and calls-to-arms. Here's the thing though. When did we all go from having our values to fighting for them, all the time? 

This isn't the quaint outrage fatigue of the early noughties. I know where I stand, which lines I draw in the sand, the things I will speak up for and against. It's just that being battle ready and trigger happy accomplishes nothing. Whose minds were last changed on a political issue by reading an article or a tweet? Who has had a dignified exchange of opposing views on television? We're expending so much fire and brimstone with our ceaseless skirmishes that we have nothing left with which to do the work. 

Let's not mistake preaching to the converted and taking on a few trolls with the real thing. Change is not content. Even though the great flaw of our world today is that it feels like it. If change is what you want to accomplish, know that progress can be won quietly. In this day and age of resistance to everything, let your deeds flourish under the radar. Lick your wounds. You will never get to set the terms of the engagement online. But you can reclaim ground in the world. Stop fighting everything you're against. Just go do what you're for. Or nothing, because remember what a famous man once said about being the change you want to see in the world? 

That's what I tell myself, these days. And I'm beginning to like what I hear.

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This work by ToruJ is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.