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.

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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.

Claiming My Labels for Myself

November 13, 2016

I don’t know when the word ‘liberal’ (and even more so, the shortened ‘libs’) became an insult, but somehow it has.  Rather than owning a liberal stance, many of our public officials have shied away from proclaiming themselves liberals for fear of alienating more conservative constituents, and the general populace has followed suit.  When someone asks me if I am a liberal, my first instinct is to temper my response because the conservative base has turned that term into something dirty, or at the very least, uneducated.  In reality, the very definition of the word, according to Merriam-Webster, is one who “believes that government should be active in supporting social and political change” and one who is “not opposed to new ideas or ways of behaving”.  Why have we backed away from owning this term?  We are an evolving and changing society; being open to new ideas and social change is something I am proud of.  It is vital to be forward-thinking in our world.  We need to take back the definition of the word and not let someone else define what it means within the scope of our society.  I don’t claim to speak for anyone but myself here, but I am a Christian and a liberal, and I’m taking my own labels back.  I am educated, I am smart, I am independent, and my opinions are formed by reading, listening, thinking, challenging, and processing.  I believe in love and support of all people, and I believe that there’s a greater spiritual being than humans out there in the universe.  And that’s what a Christian liberal woman looks like in me.

–Donna Lutjens

Post Election Distress

November 13, 2016

Like much of the United States last Tuesday, I sat riveted to the reported updates of the presidential election.  In disbelief I watched as the unthinkable happened.  As the evening progressed, it became more and more clear that the brash, unpredictable, and volatile Donald Trump would become our 45th president of the United States.

Since then, I have watched the inevitable ‘us versus them’ arguments break out online.  Like a great deal of the rhetoric that preceded the election, they veer, in the vast majority, toward grand, sweeping generalizations and divisiveness.  They all think this; we all think that.  Friendships and families have been broken over the results of the election and people’s support of their chosen candidate.  Tuesday’s election was indeed a historic election, though not historic in the sense we all thought it would be; we have been plunged in the midst of a civil war for the modern age, if not literally, at least figuratively.

“Libs need to get over it and quit being crybabies.”

“We won and they need to get over it.  You didn’t see us protesting when Obama won!”

“Trump says it like it is!”  and also, interestingly, “He didn’t really mean it like that!”

“You can’t hold it against him that he said something you find disrespectful to women in private, many years ago.”

These are just a few of the dismissive and divisive comments I’ve heard, both from friends and strangers over the course of the last week.  This unrest in this great country of ours is not about a temper tantrum because one side didn’t get its way; the unrest stems from a genuine and true fear that many of the people now have in the wake of this election.  We have elected a president who has said he believes in “stop and frisk”, believes in deporting millions, believes in banning Muslims, believes in erecting a wall to keep out Mexicans, believes that he can say anything he wants about women, because ‘if you’re famous, you can get away with it’.  We have elected a vice-president who is firmly anti-LGBT who supports ‘conversion therapy’; we have elected a vice-president who is firmly anti-Planned Parenthood; we have elected a vice-president who believes he should get to decide the reproductive rights of women.  The demonstrations and protests are not about being poor losers in a casual game of baseball; they are about being on the losing side of a privileged majority who has just reasserted its ability to further marginalize and exclude the rights of whole groups of people who have had their voices wrested away.  This isn’t a game in which poor sportsmanship is mildly unbecoming; this is the real world where people’s rights, their dignity, their lives are in danger.

I do not believe that all people who voted for Donald Trump are racist or sexist; that’s exactly the kind of generalized, incendiary comment that I don’t like directed at anyone.  Make no mistake, however, the racists and the sexists have been mightily, dangerously emboldened by this newly elected administration.  The KKK is holding victory rallies, and students are being told at schools by classmates AND teachers that their parents will be sent back to where they came from. Swastikas and racist graffiti have cropped up in alarming numbers.  People have been harassed and assaulted because of their skin color, their religion, their sexual orientation, their gender.  Is this what folks wanted when they said the world was getting too “PC”?  I would hope not. But this is the world we have chosen when we have elected a man who is publicly and unabashedly a bully; you get justification to behave in this way.  Words matter.  And the words of our president-elect matter.  Don’t believe me?  Look at how the men and women of this country have chosen to respond.

I am not naïve.  I know that there was still racism and homophobia and sexism before the election; of course there was.  But many of us, myself included, had allowed ourselves to believe that progress was being made—that we had moved toward a more inclusive and hopeful society.  But in one night, we have moved back our societal clock and eradicated many of the gains our society has seen in the recent past.  I now have friends who fear their marriages will be declared invalid; I have friends who fear seeing their families torn apart; I have friends who fear that their voices won’t be heard when they speak out against sexism in the workplace.  I have students who don’t feel they can voice their opinions about the election for fear people will find out their parents are immigrants; I have students who fear bullying because of the traditional clothing they wear.  The response I’ve heard again and again from pro-Trump supporters is, “Don’t worry; I’m sure it will be fine.  We just all need to get over it and work together.”  But how can you work together under someone who negates your existence? Who trivializes your fear? Who does nothing to assuage half of the nation who has no idea if there’s even a place in this country for them anymore?

Words matter.  Protests matter.  If you fear your voice is being silenced, speak loudly, and again and again.  I need to speak, to give rise to my own voice.  It matters.  If I don’t speak, my silence makes me complicit in the injustices that follow.  This is not the world I want for my daughters, for my son.  I want them to see that their voices, too, matter, and that they need not simply be subject to the world in which they live; they need not simply accept where they see injustice in the world because they feel they don’t have power.  They can be forceful agents of change.  If I did not speak, I would be complicit in the silence of my own children, and that is not the world I wish for them.  Speak.  And for those who say, “If you’re not happy, you can leave the country,” I say it is my right—my responsibility—to speak for what I believe in in this, my country.  Speak.

–Donna Lutjens