I have been on a news diet since not sleeping much the night of November 8th, and I think I’ll be on a news diet for the next four years. I have that luxury since I don’t live in the US, and I have to say, I’ve felt healthier and more productive ever since. Also, one advantage of having as a poor memory as I do: I’ll be quickly forgetting all the stupid crap I was reading in the run-up to the American election.
Some of my favourite writers have chimed in with their thoughts, but as usual, Ursula K. Le Guin’s take is the most insightful. This is a beautiful piece, worth reading in its entirety.
The Election, Lao Tzu, a Cup of Water
Americans have voted for a politics of fear, anger, and hatred, and those of us who oppose this politics are now trying to figure out how we can oppose it usefully. I want to defend my country, my republic. In the atmosphere of fear, anger, and hatred, opposition too easily becomes division, fixed enmity. I’m looking for a place to stand, or a way to go, where the behavior of those I oppose will not control my behavior.
Americans are given to naming enemies and declaring righteous war against them. Indians are the enemy, socialism is the enemy, cancer is the enemy, Jews are the enemy, Muslims are the enemy, sugar is the enemy. We don’t support education, we declare a war on illiteracy. We make war on drugs, war on Viet Nam, war on Iraq, war on obesity, war on terror, war on poverty. We see death, the terms on which we have life, as an enemy that must be defeated at all costs.
Defeat for the enemy, victory for us, aggression as the means to that end: this obsessive metaphor is used even by those who know that aggressive war offers no solution, and has no end but desolation.
The election of 2016 was one of the battles of the American Civil War. The Trump voters knew it, if we didn’t, and they won it. Their victory helps me see where my own thinking has been at fault.
I will try never to use the metaphor of war where it doesn’t belong, because I think it has come to shape our thinking and dominate our minds so that we tend to see the destructive force of aggression as the only way to meet any challenge. I want to find a better way.
It goes from there, just as beautifully. I’m a pacifist but I don’t know much about Lao Tzu (a much different tradition, arriving at the same location: peace is difficult, yet worth the effort); I think I’ve going to have to remedy that.
I’ve also been thinking about Canadians who have moved to the US. I went back and re-read Emily St. John Mandel’s piece from earlier this year, The Year of Numbered Rooms, and found it greatly moving and relevant. Especially in the context of the subject of Station Eleven.