We Are Not At the Center

This blog is in response to Joysette’s beautiful blog “On the Passivity of a Generation” summarized briefly:
Have we become so comfortable, with our “on demand” society, that we’ve failed to struggle for the things that are truly important? Too distracted by the 47 ways to manipulate something as simple as coffee to understand the complexity of human nature?..I believe there was a time that people cared. I’m beginning to think that it’s not en vogue anymore. It’s not plastered on the cover of a magazine, nor can I sense that any periodical is telling the true story of our generation.

But what about the Zapatistas in Mexico, holding back the state with pitchforks and emails? What about the activists in India staging a worldwide boycott of Coca-cola for what they have done to their water supply? What about the 150,000 Australians that marched against climate changeon November 11th? Or the Cananea miners who have been striking for half a year? What about the tens of thousands mobilizing against free trade in Columbia? Or the 100,000 Burmese on the streets of Rangoon, demanding freedom from military rule as soldiers shoot people in the street. Or the undocumented immigrants on hunger strike in France?

We are the powdered ladies that play kroquet. We live like children and only know the world (death, struggle) from books. We are the ones who throw ourselves into activism like a timid child dipping it’s toe into the water. We cannot help ourselves. Our lives are comfortable. The desperation that we face to improve the world is no greater than the desperation to be beautiful or buy a house or pass the test or live out whatever dreams we realized before we knew the cruelty of the world is a call to action.

This is what it means to be middle class. Because if your water supply is privatized there is nothing more important to you than getting it back. If there are soldiers on every corner and tension and gun smoke in the air, what else do you think about but tension and gun smoke?

Maslow would explain it best: in the hierarchy of needs, people who are in fear for their own survival make that their fist priority. And those of us who have food, shelter, clothes, income — we worry about making sense of the world. So for different reasons, the peasant and the scholar may lay there body on the line. But when the scholars’ need for approval, when their job is threatened, when their life is uncomfortable, they are the ones to leave the movement.

You are right that many are blind, distracted, led-astray, unaware. As were the Yankees that didn’t lift a finger to help the slaves. As were the Americans that went along with the murder of the native population or didn’t blink at the phrase “manifest destiny.” So were the Germans as millions of their citizens were slaughtered by the Nazis.

There have always been people that fought back, just as there has always been a privileged class that didn’t have to.

Many thought that the appointment of a right-wing president would be the kick in the tush the country needed to wake it up to the problems of the world. And for some, it has been. But what do we expect from a country that still mocks the serious left-wing movements, has little clue how to organize, is afraid of the power of labor unions and thinks their only empowerment comes once a year at the ballot box? We are soft, like the late Romans. Perhaps it will be our downfall. Perhaps it is time for our downfall. But this–the struggle, the solution–is not about us. It is only about us in that we are the problem.

Your confusion is due to a lack of perspective. The struggle around us is carried out by armchair revolutionaries when it is convenient to do so. They are dedicated. They care deeply. But their lives do not depend upon it. The glaciers may be melting, but it is hard to feel that while we still have broadband and surround sound. But I do not think for a second that there are not people right now whose whole lives are wrapped up in altering the course of history.

The history of the world is struggle and it is not slowing now. If anything, it is accelerating at a deafening pace to what will possibly be the ultimate (anti)climax. It is not that less people care. All over the world, people are knee-deep in the thick of life or death altercations. Perhaps the great tragedy is that there are not enough of them.

And what are we doing? There are so many things I want to do. I want to start a website to measure the hope of the world. At the top of Maslow’s hierarchy, I am privileged to hunger for truth. I want to paint it and poeticize it and blog it. I want to stand on a soapbox and shout speeches to the stunned masses. I want to start a radio station and prop my soapbox there. I want to wheatpaste and spray paint and sticker it all over the city. And there is time only for a fraction of these things. And yet even these things are not *real* in the same way destroying dams and tearing down cell phone towers is real. Partly I feel that my gift is one of truth and lies are what are poisoning this country so these are my remedies. But the truth is, I am too comfortable to take those kinds of risks. If I have shown a few people the seeds of truth then I will sleep well at night. Fortunately, I am not at the center of the fighting, the famine and thirst, the cacophonous brutality that keeps many, many, restless.