Ten years ago my City erupted into flames and rioting. At the age of 15, I suppose it would be the closest I would ever get to a real live war zone, armored caravans of national guardsmen patrolling the streets, phalanxes of helicopters patrolling the skies, burnt out ruins on either side of the street as I drove to school, and the smoke. I remember crying, from that acrid smoke, and from the inchoate confusion raging in my heart, a complex confusion that I still haven’t worked out, and probably never will. At the age of 15, I realize that it had a massive impact on my psyche, perhaps disproportionately so. While I know there is a fine line between finding causation and making excuses, I would go out on a limb to say that this was when my respect for authority crumbled, when my belief in the American Dream faded, when I realized how racist everyone is regardless of the color of their skin, and when I realized that both the radical right and the radical left are equally fucked up. No one really wants to find a solution to the “Race” problem. All everyone really wants is to be the Man and have the Cheese.
So Hope does not lie in the Big Picture. It never did. If there’s one lesson that The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy taught me, it is that it is dangerous to have a sense of proportion, it is hazardous to try to put everything into perspective. While most behavioralists would list repression as an immature coping mechanism, there is a reason for it. If you actually contemplated how fucked up the world actually is and then simultaneously thought about how little impact one individual can have on these massive problems, then I would wager money that the thought of suicide would probably at least cross your mind.
But it’s all about Small, Non-Threatening Things. These are human problems, and ultimately there will be human solutions. Superman will not come to save the day, God will not rip open the heavens and deliver the Saved. This is our mess, and there isn’t anyone else around to fix it but us.
What can an individual do? To steal a phrase from Gandhi, “Whatever you do will be insignificant, but it is important that you do it.” To paraphrase Charles Bukowski, the only way to save the world is one person at a time. There is no glamour in what is, in effect, a shit-cleaning job. No one will care. But all you need is that critical mass. Get enough people doing the right things for the right reasons, no matter how pointless and futile each task may seem to be, and you might just get fusion. This is how stars are born. Evolution, not revolution.
What are the right things? I dunno. I haven’t gotten far enough to articulate them. But, clearly, other people have been thinking about it for far longer than I have. For thousands of years, people have been trying to figure how we might be able to “just get along.” In the end, isn’t it just common sense? Why hate someone you hardly now? At the very least, get to know someone before you start hating them. Nothing is worse than ignorant hatred. To paraphrase a famous book, pull out the splinter in your own eye before you point out the mote in someone else’s.
So who knows. We either fix it, or it kills us. Natural selection in action. Do or die.
Hope lies in the little acts of kindness that no one remembers, in the caring words we tell each other that don’t seem to signify anything until it’s too late, in the failed, unrealistic dreams of the naive idealist. But even if the idealist loses their way, the dream still stands, the vision is still true, and why not go for it? Why not try? Just because freedom and justice doesn’t exist now doesn’t mean it never can. And even if I’m wrong, why not try anyway? What have we got to lose?