My daughter sent me the hour-plus long video clip of the interactions on the National Mall earlier this week with the comment, “This video scares the hell out of me. So much hate directed all over. Hate I didn’t even know existed.” This was my response to her:
“The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice.” This is a quote attributed to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., though it appears to be much older. An encouraging thought, particularly on the day we celebrate his birthday. I don’t know if it’s true or not, but it is encouraging. During World War II, when the outcome was anything but certain, I’m sure many had doubts. There have been many times, just within my lifetime,when the fate of humanity in general and America in particular was uncertain. We came pretty close to nuclear war over the Cuban missile crisis. Sanity prevailed, and we take that for granted now, but it wasn’t clear at the time how that was all going to shake out.
Women have rights now that they didn’t always have. And blacks. And gays. And anyone who isn’t or wasn’t male, white, Anglo-Saxon and Protestant. We’ve had a Catholic president, and a black president. Someday, we’ll probably have a woman, and a Jew, and a Hispanic. Probably.
Karl Marx, writing about religion, called it “the opium of the people.” All of the groups in the video clip, the Native people, the high school kids, the Black Hebrew Israelites, were all representing some form of religious beliefs. Religion is one of the most difficult things to discuss, in the best of circumstances, since it’s all based on faith, not evidence, so how do you “prove” anything?
It is true that every major religion I know of preaches pretty much the same thing, worded in different ways, and that is, do unto others as you would have them do unto you, or, more succinctly, don’t be a douche. Be cool. If people would just take that thought to heart, and act on it, the world would be a much chiller place. Instead, too many people are sure that they, and they alone, somehow have a lock on “the truth,” and everyone else is not only wrong but in dire need of convincing of the error of their ways.
There are religious organizations that I believe do do good work (Catholic Relief Services and American Jewish World Services are two that come to mind), but the amount of collective evil that has been done in the name of god is mind-boggling. And why is god so popular? Because the idea that “this is all there is” is pretty scary. Plus, it’s easier to control people if you can put “the fear of god” into them.
And people do need controls. Which is why we have laws. Without them, there is anarchy and the guy with the biggest guns rules and does whatever he wants. Even the will of the majority can be tyrannical; there are controls against that written into the U.S. Constitution (those guys were smart, enlightened and seriously progressive).
Another quote: “All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing.” It’s not clear who first came up with that one. (Sorry for all the references to “men,” but, you know …) Sometimes, it seems like we get a little breather, like during the Obama years; other times, not so much, like now. But there’s no reason, and it doesn’t help, to lose hope.
There have always been jerks in the world; sometimes, they’re more or less held in check, sometimes they seem to be resurgent, but overall, in the long range, I think, I have to believe, humanity is making progress. In 1919, a hundred years ago, the United Nations was but a dream, and the European Union not even that. Both groups are imperfect, under attack even, but the fact that they exist is very encouraging (to me). We have women’s marches and gay pride marches and people don’t die (usually).
It’s also true that America is an experiment; we don’t know how it’ll all turn out. Hell, humanity is pretty much an experiment; we don’t know how that’s going to turn out either. Dinosaurs were around a lot longer than we have been, that didn’t work out over the long term, but they had a pretty good run (so long, and thanks for all the oil). Hopefully we will too. And we’ll continue to evolve. But it’s not a given; nothing is. It takes work. And hope. And, I guess, faith in humanity.
Ken Landfield lives in Homer, is retired and enjoys taking pictures of sunsets.