Not gonna lie to you folks, I was really struggling with this one.
I truly had no idea what I was going to write about for this month’s essay – and I’ve been trying to think of a topic since the beginning of the month and been coming up short. Doesn’t help that I’ve been in a bit of a slump. As a warning up front: this may end up being one of my more emotional and wandering pieces, in addition to being less analytically rigorous than they usually are – but I still thought this one was worth writing and sharing with you all today.
I knew I wanted to write about something other than Ukraine. While that war is still very much active and very important, it’s entered a phase where the shift in the frontlines and fortunes of war are simultaneously relatively contained but constantly shifting day to day (I may do a check-in on where things are at in a future piece). I also knew I didn’t feel like doing a new entry in my “What Should it Look Like?” series right at this moment. In general, I’ve been in somewhat of a low ebb with my personal and creative endeavors the last few weeks, due to a variety of reasons – both in my personal life in events at the local, national, and international level. I’ve just felt drained and frustrated – as many of us have, I know.
It was when I was pacing the room trying to think of something that I really felt motivated to write about, it occurred to me that I was thinking about this all right around an important anniversary. If my timing works out, this essay should be released on May 25th: the day on which George Floyd – an unarmed black man – murdered by Minneapolis Police officers in 2020, kicking off a nation-wide uprising against police violence and impunity. Its also happening close to Memorial Day, and though the reflections I’m offering here aren’t exactly what Memorial Day was intended for, I think they still seem to fit the overall spirit of the idea.
Aside from the obvious reason why George Floyd’s murder and what followed matters to many people, it matters to me because that act and the response to it by so many people in the United States, and the response of the police and the state to them in turn, was what finally opened my eyes to what the country I lived in was really like. It made me come to terms with both that, and my true ideological tilt. It finally forced me to look at things in a new way after years of internal doubts about what I had thought I’d believed up until that point. It compelled me to question all my pre-existing beliefs, discard many, modify others, and double down on some. It was a personal watershed for me, much like it was a national one.
Two years after George Floyd’s death and the uprising that followed, we’ve experienced a LOT more history. The continuing COVID-19 pandemic (and our government’s – and other’s – failure to react to it), the 2020 election’s drama and the January 6th insurrection, systemic efforts to attack trans people, more and more mass shootings, consistently rising inflation and economic strife, and now the looming specter of Roe v. Wade being overturned and millions of women across the country losing their reproductive rights – and those are just all the events going on here in the United States. We’ve also witnessed America’s twenty-year war in Afghanistan end in failure, with the Afghan people themselves suffering immensely on top of all the other suffering they’ve already experienced. We saw Israel’s most recent major attempt to cull the Palestinian population in the Gaza Strip. Now, we see Russia’s blatant attempts at imperialism in Ukraine flounder – killing and maiming thousands even as its campaign falters.
Obviously, the aforementioned list of events is not all-inclusive – either nationally or internationally – but you get the idea and I don’t want to drown you in even more sorrow. We’ve all been through a great deal the last couple years. It was with that in mind as I sat here with that anniversary approaching, with May 2022 alone being packed with soul crushing news – let alone the rest of the past two years: how do I feel? Two years on from “coming out of the closet” with my ideological beliefs, how do I feel about those beliefs, about the state of my country, about the state of the world, about the future, and more? Do I feel better about everything? Worse? So-so?
This may seem like something of a cop out, but compared to two years ago, I feel simultaneously better and worse about the future. On one hand, I feel more apprehensive about the immediate future and the challenges and horrors it has in store. Yet, when it comes to looking at things in the long run, I still maintain hope. Admittedly, part of this hope is fueled just by wanting to spite doomers and doomerism in general because I absolutely despise that outlook, but I do have some genuine reasons to be hopeful in the long run and I will be sharing those momentarily.
To be brutally honest, in the short term: I’m worried and discouraged. I see forces of reaction continuing to amass power in the United States while the supposed official opposition seems content to wring their hands, clutch their pearls and cry about “the rules” while the right-wing death cult is more than happy to circumvent said rules or outright break them without a second though or suffering consequences. Overseas, I’m also pessimistic. For example: while Ukrainians hold the line in their own country, I feel that Russia’s actions there may create far-reaching shockwaves that will cause additional crisis and conflict in their wake. Even as Russia’s efforts falter, I worry Putin’s invasion of Ukraine may potentially only be the first of a new wave of revanchism and attempts at conquest in the years to come, with existing conflicts still raging on in the background as well.
This is part of why I was struggling to write an essay this month – and also struggling with some of my other creative endeavors as well. It’s simply been hard to imagine a better world, when we’re living in an era of constant crisis, crumbling, and collapse. I frame many of these essays from the perspective of a United States – combined with other allies and partners – that have a more positive, constructive ideological bent. In the past few weeks, between all the events happening here in the United States alone, it’s been very hard to envision a better country, let alone a better world. It’s been next to impossible to contemplate that possibility lately.
But, again, I haven’t given up. As much as I’ve felt my soul has been trodden on in the past weeks, months, and years, I’ve still seen things that give me hope. That despite that constant feeling that we’re being pulverized into dust, people continue to fight for their most basic rights. Workers continuing to fight for their labor rights against mega corporations like Amazon and Starbucks – and winning crucial victories. More Progressive and Leftist voices gaining ground against the moribund establishment. Overseas, we see people fighting for themselves and their neighbors both against fascist invaders in the case of Ukraine, but also against fascist forces that have usurped power in Burma. While it doesn’t mean we can sit on our laurels, seeing these pockets of resistance and hope give us a reason to keep fighting ourselves.
In some of my darker moments over the past few years, I’ve openly wished I still had political blinders on, or that I could put them back on. That I was still ensconced in a snug, warm social liberal cocoon, inside of which I would maintain my blind faith that the system as it was would eventually right itself and everything would go “back to normal” and we’d all live happily ever after. A world that works just like it does on the West Wing or in Marvel movies (oh God, that made me think of an Aaron Sorkin Marvel movie and that is truly a cursed thought. Jesus).
But that’s impossible. Even if I really truly wanted to go back to living a lie (and I don’t think I do), Pandora’s Box has been opened in my brain and the brain of many others. I’ve been cursed with knowledge and now I must live with it; there’s no putting it back where it came from. But more importantly, that wouldn’t solve or help anything. Reverting back to my previous stage of delusion and denial as fascists continue to consolidate power both at home and abroad would be about as useful as being a doomer and just accepting that everything is written in stone and there is nothing we can do to stop it. So, much like with doomerism, even if I could wipe my brain clean and go back to my previous ignorance, I refuse to do so if only on principal.
The drawback to the world not being set in stone as doomers try to convince it is, is that we can never really know where its headed or what may happen next. We can make educated guesses, and sometimes we may even be right (even when we’d rather be wrong), but the only thing we can be sure of is that nothing is sure. This reality comes with its benefits and drawbacks: it is liberating that history is not actually written in stone because it means we still have the means to influence it and try and make a better world for ourselves, but also terrifying in that this means things could get even worse than they might already be if it was written in stone.
Being stuck in this tenuous position is also an exhausting one, physically and mentally. We are constantly trying to maintain that hope for the future and take inspiration and solace from the victories we do achieve, all while remaining on guard for the next bullshit that may come our way. All of this, of course, occurs as we’ve being battered (sometimes quite literally) by whatever bullshit has been dumped on us this particular day. I’ve seen friends and loved ones struggle to keep their heads above the proverbial water while dealing with life under these circumstances. I’ve struggled myself. We all have to various degrees and we all will continue to.
But (to bring you up from that previous, dour note), even as we struggle, we’re still here. We are still here, and we are still fighting, and so are billions of others across the world. One major thing that gives me hope is despite being worn down, despite being tired, anxious, and depressed on many days, I still feel a fire in my belly. I still feel anger: anger that it has to be this way. Anger that so many people I care about, that so many people in general, have to struggle just to exist in this day and age. I still feel anger at the inaction the powers that be exhibit in dealing with these issues, or anger at them actively working to prevent any change for the better. Despite everything, I still feel a drive to do something. I still want things to be different. That hasn’t been crushed out of me yet, nor has it been crushed out of others, and that gives me hope. The fact that despite being given so many reasons to, we all haven’t given up, gives me renewed hope.
We’re only just approaching the half-way point in 2022 and I feel we’re going to have a lot more bullshit to deal with here and abroad. I don’t have any specific or particular advice to give you on how to deal with everything going on (I wish I did), but I do have some general advice that I hope does something. First, make sure you’re taking care of yourself and those you immediately depend on. Do what you have to in order to make sure you’re as safe and secure as possible in regards to your basic needs and safety. Obviously, you absolutely should help your broader community as you’re able to do so, but make sure that you take care of yourself and keep on existing. Do that because A.) your life matters and you matter to people; and B.) because you’re no good to others who depend on you otherwise. This includes taking occasional breaks to “unplug” from the news and current events (something I’m trying to be better at). Obviously, you shouldn’t completely disconnect and go into grillpilled mode, but know when you need to log off for a bit and just not think about the world for a while and do it when necessary.
Second piece of broad advice: just do what you can, with the understanding that it may not always be a lot but that it still contributes in some fashion. Whether its dealing with the threat of Roe v. Wade being overturned here at home, or its Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, it’s hard to imagine what we can do to affect these things. There are things we can do, however small they might be, to help in some way. Do what you can to help but try not to beat yourself up over not being able to do more. Take a realistic view of your role in current events. Don’t let yourself succumb to despair thinking that there’s nothing you can do. If anything, harness any feelings of impotent rage to motivate yourself to do the things are you able of, and when you feel frustrated that there’s not more you can do, remember that we’re all in this for the long haul and that another chance will come for you to act. This will be a long war with many battles.
Alright, I think I’ve rambled about enough. I promise for the next essay I’ll try to do something that’s closer to my usual bread and butter of analysis on IR and war, but this was just something I felt compelled to write and get off my chest (especially as I was struggling for motivation on any other ideas currently). I hope maybe these thoughts and reflections are of some use to anyone who reads them. The last few years have been rough, but in a lot of ways I’m also very proud of myself and others for how we’ve dealt with it and that too gives me hope for the future. With that, before I talk too much more and find a reason to be a downer, I will leave you for now. Stay safe and stay motivated. One day, someday, we will make things better. I haven’t given up on that dream yet and I really hope you haven’t either.
Photo credit: Calvin Hodgson