I Like My Dystopia in Fictional Form, Thank You

April 17, 2017

My favorite genre of literature is dystopian fiction.  Authors create worlds that could be, cautionary tales to warn us away from pitfalls in our present that are driving us forward on a perilous trajectory.  We have not listened, my friends, and now we find our fictional futures colliding frighteningly with our unstable present.  In the words of the prescient authors past and present:

THE NEW STATE OF THINGS

“Sound bytes. Catch phrases. Sales pitches. Words. All lexical legitimizing. ‘A rose by any other name…’ he said. In the end it’s all propaganda.” –J.A. Willoughby, The Promised Land

“…dead to all things but greed and a desire to rule over others.” –Arun D. Ellis, Corpalism

This is a game show to Trump, and has been from the beginning.  He thrives on catch phrases, lives in generalities.  He has eschewed daily briefings because they don’t interest him; he has announced his bafflement at the complex issues he is responsible for when he is made to sit down and listen to the minutiae of the policies he must address.  (Who knew healthcare was so complex?  Everybody. Literally everybody except you.)  He couldn’t even be bothered to be sure about which country he bombed, as a matter of fact, in a show of power.  Did he think about potential consequences? Did he consider the complex political landscape he was walking into? (Not to mention the fact that he had recently declared that Syria needed to attend to their own problems without our interference.)  I mean, who could guess that foreign policy and diplomacy and acts of war could be so complex? Literally everybody, save one, apparently.  Honestly, it’s much more fun to just think about how impressive that giant explosion will be, and damn the consequences!  Desire to rule over others here means a show of force and might, but no real desire for governance for and with the people.

 

“That was when they suspended the Constitution. They said it would be temporary. There wasn’t even any rioting in the streets. People stayed home at night, watching television, looking for some direction.” ― Margaret Atwood, The Handmaid’s Tale

There have already been little bends and fissures in the laws in place, including healthcare, LGBT rights, and immigration, not to mention some pretty major reversals of previously hard-won policies.  We’ve lost all semblance of “checks and balances” with a Republican president, and a Republican majority in the House and Senate, as well as a conservative majority sitting on the Supreme Court. (Gorsuch, by the way, was confirmed after the rules were changed to go “nuclear” so that only a majority vote was necessary.  This, just shortly after a highly contentious confirmation hearing for the Education Secretary, DeVos, narrowly passed with a tie-breaking vote by Vice President Pence.)  So despite dragging their feet for months on a confirmation hearing for Obama’s Supreme Court pick, all it took to get the Republican nominee in was changing the rules to suit their plan.  Those in power are making changes to keep themselves in power indefinitely, closing up avenues to challenge that power.  This should be very frightening indeed.  If we continue to sit back and watch it unfold without raising our voices, soon there will be no place at all for our voices.  Once power is lost, it becomes that much more difficult to regain.

“He who controls the past controls the future. He who controls the present controls the past.”— George Orwell, 1984

Trump’s heightened paranoia of his media coverage has become slightly ominous and threatening.  If he gets to ultimately decide which media is “real” (Fox News, Breitbart) and which media is “fake” (every other media outlet), he is effectively proclaiming that his truth, his reality, is the only one that matters. One of the hallmarks of our democracy is our multiplicity of viewpoints and our access to free press—that is, press that is not forcibly controlled by our government in order to narrowly define and disseminate state approved sound-bytes and propaganda.  Continuing to foster a hostile stance against free press and using the office of the president to attack any news source that dares to question or hold him accountable for his actions or his words is merely laying the groundwork for the hostile takeover of public information.

 

HOW DID WE GET HERE?

“He hadn’t realized that the ordinary little things that happened, the ones that took place between the big events while waiting for something more exciting to happen – they were the most important, after all.” ― Helen Smith, The Miracle Inspector

“There was protest…There were those who knew. Who saw what was coming. But their voices were mere whispers in a crowd of roaring discontent. The surrender of freedom came in subtle stages, not with an explosive arrival.” –Bard Constantine, Silent Empire

We have spent years languishing in complacency as a society.  We have the most abysmal voter turnout in democratic nations.  We do not seek out active roles in our own governance; we do not educate ourselves about the issues that regulate our world.  We give over—we have given over—our power to others who seem more invested and interested, and we go on about our lives, confident that things will work out.  And mostly, until now, they have.  There were some small things, and even some slightly bigger things, in the running of our country, that I might have disagreed with here and there.  On the whole, though, I was satisfied, and my life didn’t alter significantly when a new law was passed or a new representative hung his name plate on his office in the House.  And we got too comfortable.  I got too comfortable.  By the time I realized it was time to call the fire department, the whole house was engulfed.  In hindsight, I smelled the smoke; I felt a little warm.  I didn’t, however, gather the neighbors and sound the alarm before it got out of control.  Hindsight does not help us—and here we are.

Months after the election, Trump himself is the one who can’t seem to let the election and opposition to his rule go.  He also seems to think any protest–then and now– is “paid for” by…who knows? How is it possible that he can’t fathom people coming together of their own volition to express dissatisfaction? His narcissism makes it impossible for him to see dissent, and the people with whom he surrounds himself provide a protective bubble to engender that viewpoint.

CONSEQUENCES

 “When a man cannot choose, he ceases to be a man.”—Anthony Burgess, A Clockwork Orange

“I never thought it would get this bad. I never thought the Reestablishment would take things so far. They’re incinerating culture, the beauty of diversity. The new citizens of our world will be reduced to nothing but numbers, easily interchangeable, easily removable, easily destroyed for disobedience. We have lost our humanity.” ―Tahereh Mafi, Shatter Me

We have lost funding to Planned Parenthood, and the government continues to dismantle healthcare that will deny coverage to millions if they are successful.  Funding for schools, arts, and social programs are all on the chopping block in favor of funneling unimaginable dollars into an already massive military budget, because that’s what Trump believes equates to power—force and might, not humanity and culture.  This is the path he has chosen for us, but I refuse to be reduced to a number.  I will continue to fight for the beauty of diversity and the humanity that is in us all. This is what I choose.

“For if leisure and security were enjoyed by all alike, the great mass of human beings who are normally stupefied by poverty would become literate and would learn to think for themselves; and when once they had done this, they would sooner or later realise that the privileged minority had no function, and they would sweep it away. In the long run, a hierarchical society was only possible on a basis of poverty and ignorance.” –George Orwell, 1984

My bias may be showing here, but this is where the importance of education comes in, both formal and informal.  We have to ensure that the populace has the security of a humane life and has access to education to become critical thinkers and consumers of information in our world, so that we are not beholden only to the information the Man Behind the Curtain wants to show us, but rather that we are all able to discern and evaluate and assess on our own.  We need to right the ship of power once again so that the people are the captain and the president is the one following their commands, rather than the other way around.  Our President and our elected officials are our crew; we cannot abdicate our responsibility in telling him how we want to sail the ship.  As of now, we have a mutiny afoot, and we have to wrest control back before we lose it altogether.  An ignorant populace breeds fear, contempt, and hostility; an educated one recognizes that gain for each is a gain for all and seeks to uplift and help one another for the greater good.  A “leader” who is more interested in maintaining power than in his constituents will do all in his power to foster the former and not the latter.

WHAT DO WE DO NOW?

“Ignoring isn’t the same as ignorance, you have to work at it.”—Margaret Atwood, The Handmaid’s Tale

“There’s a big difference between being numb to something and being immune to it.”
― Michael Monroe, Afterlife

“Nature never appeals to intelligence until habit and instinct are useless. There is no intelligence where there is no need of change.”—H.G. Wells, The Time Machine

It’s tough in today’s world to be disaffected, to be ignorant, but some people still work at it.  We simply can’t afford it.  Being numb to what is going on doesn’t mean we won’t feel the consequences, and they are likely to get much, much worse before they get better.  It’s now several months in, and some are weary of the continued calls to contact your representatives, or to get out for the mid-year elections, or to continue to write and speak your mind.  They’re counting on that.  They want us to become accustomed to the new normal, to sink into acceptance.  We’ve done that for too long, and the stakes are far too high.  The battle will be won with perseverance and persistence, not force.

“We can’t be confined to one way of thinking, and that terrifies our leaders. It means we can’t be controlled. And it means that no matter what they do, we will always cause trouble for them.” –Veronica Roth, Divergent

“You cannot buy the revolution. You cannot make the revolution. You can only be the revolution. It is in your spirit, or it is nowhere.”—Ursula K. LeGuin, The Dispossessed

 “There has to be beauty left in the world, Julia,” said Kiyu. “Otherwise we have nothing.”
― Erica Lindquist, Whisperworld

We can’t be controlled.  We can’t wait for the revolution and the resistance to come from somewhere else.  It has to begin with us; it must continue with us.  That, after all, is the beauty left in the world—us.  The individual.  The humanity in us all.

Metaphor

March 23, 2017

 

At the risk of being too simplistic, I can only wrap my brain around the new Federal Budget proposal in terms of the environment in which I spend my time.  The proposal includes a massive boost to military and Homeland Security, while cutting huge percentages of domestic programs.  If we drop that Federal Budget scenario down to a microcosm—say a public high school–here’s what it would look like:  We’d have state of the art camera security and a strong police presence around the perimeter of the school in order to protect the students from harmful outsiders.  There would also be a highly visible police presence within the campus, in order to vet each student to ensure that they fit the correct profile of students we want to educate within our walls.  Drones would be enlisted to fly over the campus periodically to make sure all students adhered to appropriate conduct codes, and to ensure that no one on the outside attempts to scale the heavily fortified wall surrounding the compound. God forbid we should want to educate those who didn’t start their education here.

Inside the classroom however, the children share meager materials—

They’ll be sitting on the floors, because there aren’t enough desks.

They’ll be sharing texts, because there is no funding to ensure each child has a book.

More kids than we thought will have books today, though, since several students are home sick, not having the ability to access health care.

Several students are unable to focus on lessons, because they struggle with mental health issues for which there is no assistance—or their parents do.

Students break for lunch at noon.  If they weren’t fortunate enough to bring their own lunches from home, they will be going without. They should have known better than to be born into a family without sufficient means to provide them lunch.

Don’t worry about afternoon music classes; there aren’t any.  Those go by the wayside when funding for NEA becomes obsolete.  Ditto for field trips to the local museums.

Programs to assist students who need additional help in acquiring English language skills, or students who are struggling and falling behind in reading and math?  Good luck.  Perhaps those students should try NOT having another language as their primary language, or perhaps they should just try not to have learning disabilities.  Again, they should have had the foresight to be born into families with better resources.

Yes, unless born to privilege, in our little school the kids will lack resources.  They’ll be hungry, and in need.  Access to the most basic of needs will be limited; access to culture and art non-existent.  Not to worry, though—no harm will come to them from the world outside the school house doors.  Probably.  On the inside, however, they’re on their own.

 

Back into the Fray

March 22, 2017

 

It’s been awhile since I’ve written a post.  I feel I’ve been in survival mode, politically speaking—dodging bullets raining down left and right.  Each morning brings a fresh barrage of nerve-wracking, dangerous revelations out of the White House.  Russian ties, blatant racism, nepotism, and misogyny. An endless stream of infantile “Presidential” tweets directing hostility and rancor at the media and begging desperately for respect, credibility, and adoration that he has no idea how to garner from the public.  Legislation designed to gut education, health care, and programs that care for our most vulnerable populations.  An endless parade of appointees who not only DON’T “drain the swamp”, but instead own the swamp and have every intention of erecting a gilt palace and unpacking the finery and the good silver for a good long stay.

It’s tempting to keep dodging the bullets, ducking for cover.  It would be easier to turn a blind eye to the news.  It’s hard to know even where to jump in the fray or which battle cry to raise.  The fray, however, rages on; the easier way doesn’t win victories.  We must battle on.