As you can see, I am on holiday and enjoying the Atlantic beaches in the spring, keeping myself busy building sand castles and trying to get them to resist the onslaught of the rising tide.
I love building sand castles; I did that as a kid, and now as a father I have a great excuse to have a go at it again. It’s utterly pointless, it’s tiring and it’s not even always successful. And yet it usually brings about a peaceful kind of satisfaction, of fulfillment that makes it all worthwhile.
As I’ve been cut off from the internets most of the time in the past few days, I’ve been thinking about politics, and about what I’ve been doing here and on dKos, and what we are all doing, and while I was fighting the tide it felt that it was not so different from what we are all doing on the internets.
When I think about it, a lot about life is pointless. You grow up, do stuff, work, possibly have a family and kids, and die, without changing the world around you in any noticeable way other than a more or less wide circle around you. We do it because we’re there. But this is a bit like the sand castles, isnt it? That’s the whole point. You do it because you’re there, and while you’re at it you do your best, even if you know that it will eventually be run over by the tide. Precisely because it is fleeting, the effort and the heart you put into it as just as important, if not more, than what you build. Same with your life: you try to live it as well as you can, behaving throughout in the way that you think if the most appropriate. If you have any perspective, you may decide that how you do things is more important than the result, which will be meaningless in the end.
Taking the image a notch down, you get to the level of our current political situation, where I think we all feel that we are fighting against a rising tide of seemingly unstoppable right wing assertiveness and arrogance, capturing power, defacing language, polluting many supposedly neutral institutions, and generally showing little respect for those that do not think like them. That’s where my sand castle came in initially in my thoughts – we are an island or resistance, fragile, always in danger of being overwhelmed, and yet also, precisely, a symbol of resistance, of not giving up, of making a stand. And it is also a sign of hope: after all, sand is available, all is takes is enough effort to build it high enough to withstand the force of the waves, and to start again and again as the walls are being sapped, to reinforce the weakest parts, to focus on the most urgent when required but take the time to build stronger foundations when the threat is more remote, to build new front lines that protect your main asset by moving the fight elsewhere.
Writing on blogs in general and here in particular is a bit like that. It’s a small effort against a relentless adversary, it’s probably not going to have any long term effect (although a place like dKos is probably already in the jetty business and no longer just in the sand castle business…) but it offers us many important things:
- the ability to make a stand, to identify oneself clearly with a set of values and policy choices (in the immortal words of Bridget Jones: “we stand for the principle of sharing, kindness, gays, single mothers and Nelson Mandela as opposed to braying bossy men having affairs with everyone shag-shag-shag left, right and center and going to the Ritz in Paris then telling off all the presenters in the Today programme”);
- the provision of ammunition (shovels and buckets) to fight our fights – information, a lot of information, to argument, to act or simply to feel more confident in theessential rightness of our opinions;
- the feeling of community, that we are not alone in that fight, that many energies are focused on the same goal and that their strength – our strength – could very well be enough and that we will be able to outlast the tide.
Because that’s also the lesson here: the tide will go back out. The only thing that matters is – will we still be around when it goes out, and will the flag on out castle still be there to be raised? Will we have sold out? Will we have been utterly defeated? Or will the sand walls have withstood the onslaught?
I remember growing up, learning the history of my country (France) during this century, and wondering often: what would I have done during WWII? Would I have been brave enough to be in the Resistance? Or would I have been opportunistic and risen in the Collaboration Vichy administration? Or would I have been in the majority, all the people that remained silent, did not choose sides and waited for the fight to play itself out? I have been very grateful, for many years, that there have been no wars or no conflicts in my country that would have pushed me to make such a choice. I did my military service, but did not have to face real combat. I respect men (and women) who serve in the army to protect us, risking their lifes for us, but I hate their job which is to kill and destroy and I grieve the fact that we still have not managed to make peace without them.
I loathe violence and selfishness but see these as part and parcel of human nature; they are not to be fought as such, but to be channelled into innocuous, harmless or even productive uses, and that’s what institutions do. Institutions are essentially sets of rules that we all decide to believe in, and which are then formalised into laws and administrations and big buildings, but at the core they are that – rules that we all believe in ,and that thus become true because we all follow them. Such institutionalised rules are extremely strong and self-sustaning, as deviant behavior is not tolerated, but they are also very difficult to bring about, as you need everybody to accept them and to believe that everybody else accepts them.
We are again lucky to have been born at a time, and in countries, where we have pretty good institutions, based on the rule of law, a strong State with mostly honest civil servants able to makes rules and to enforce them and to control the monopoly of force in legitimate ways. We also sense that the situation is fragile today, that these institutions are under unprecedented attack, and that we have to choose sides to protect our institutions. This is not a fight of left against right, although most of the left is on our side; it is a fight against fundamentalism, obscurantism and the simplistic “might is right” which has been the default option for mankind since its inception. It is résistance vs collaboration; it is action vs the easy slope of silence and low expectations. At least today I know what side I will be on with all my strength.
This is also why this is not just a domestic US fight, as the perverted values of the current US administration and its fundamentalist friends threaten not only US democracy but also peace and stability in many parts of the world, either directly as in Iraq or indirectly by fuelling resentment and the rise of fundamentalism inside Arab countries led by Western-supported corrupt dictators. I fear that I will not continue the blessed life of an European of today, with peace and prosperity, for very long, as a long fight, possibly another war, threatens to engulf us all. Hopefully this fight will remain at the political level, but it seems unlikely in view of the extreme objectives of the fundamentalists and the lack of consciousness of that threat in the population.
Sometimes it seems to me that our peoples are yearning for such strong leadership. We are dominated by individualism and selfishness, forces for collective organisation of society, like Churches, ideologies or States, are corroded and discredited by such individualism, and the only thing that thrives in that atomised environment are mediocre politicians and numbless media/entertainement and it seems that everybody yearns for higher meaning and sense, most people not having enough discipline and personal standards to find these on their own or on this site… And opportunists rush into this flaw to try to take advantage of this situation for their benefit.We must not let them. (See lorraine’s daddy diary on this topic as well).
Thus our institutions are in danger, our freedoms are in danger, our political sand castles are in danger.
But, as I spend these few days by the sea reflecting on all this, I can say that I am ready to fight for these with you guys. It’s pointless in the large scheme of things, but it is essential, and it is worth it. For now, I train myself on real sand castles, and I enjoy it. Both fights keep me alive and in good spirits!