15 February 2018

Realism 2.0

Madras (Oregon) sunset
The conventional wisdom:

You want sane gun control policies? A day in Washington DC without a new outrage? A genuine presidential election in Russia? Don't hold your breath!

As I noted after Russia's 2016 legislative elections, the advice to "be realistic" is too often simply a wet blanket to smother our hopes for something better. This evening on television, in response to the cries from Stoneman Douglas High School students and parents, pleading for action on gun control, I heard that same old cynicism: "Why," asked the worldly-wise, "should we expect a genuine response this time?"

We in fact won't do any better this time than we have before, if we surrender to this passivity. But the opposite of passivity isn't frantic perfection! I like these words from Jim Manney:
There’s an old saying that we should “pray as if everything depends on God, work as if everything depends on you.” It’s been attributed to Ignatius (though there’s no evidence that he said it), and many think it captures the Ignatian spirit: turning it all over to God in prayer and then working tirelessly and urgently to do God’s work. I prefer to reverse it: “pray as if everything depends on you, work as if everything depends on God.” This means that prayer has to be urgent: God has to do something dramatic if everything depends on me. It also puts our work in the right perspective: if it depends on God, we can let it go. We can work hard but leave the outcome up to him. If God is in charge we can tolerate mixed results and endure failure.
In any given moment, we may have no guarantee that our vision or our resistance will prevail, but we're working "as if everything depended on God." Listen, we are a happy people -- it has been given to us to work in collaboration with the Holy Spirit, accepting success and failure with an eager persistence and willingness to pray and learn and try again.

I have this odd intuition that, in fact, we're finally gaining on the bullies. They've overplayed their hand. A couple of years ago I saw a documentary on the D-Day invasion of Normandy. The vicious German machine-gun fire cut into the lines of invading troops coming ashore with awful effect, but those same machine gun bullets were strangely ineffective when traveling through more than a few feet of water. The water's resistance was enough to slow the bullets to a nonlethal speed.

Similarly, I dare to hope, our own increasing resistance may be taking its toll on the bullies.  The #MeToo movement is shaking up ancient assumptions of impunity for sexually aggressive power figures. Domestic violence, even by highly-placed White House officials, is no longer a "private" matter. Corruption and arrogance in state and federal cabinets are provoking resistance, too. Strangely, Donald Trump's relentless barrage of abusive Twitter remarks may itself lead to an outpouring of "we've had enough!"

Another case of resistance: as the Russian authorities try to shut down the exposes of corruption and the election-boycott campaign of Alexei Navalny's team, they don't give in to traditional fatalism. Instead, persistence and humor keep the team's message accessible. (Example: want the snowbanks cleared from your street? Spraypaint Navalny's name on the snow, and chances are it will get shoveled!) Even Navalny's banned Web site remains at least sporadically accessible.

After yesterday's catastrophe in Florida: the millions spent on lobbying against gun control in the USA may not be enough, this time, to ward off the day of reckoning. True, the number of guns already on American streets still will be in the hundreds of millions for a long time to come, so there are no simple solutions. But this time our outrage may finally force recognition that changes are needed and demanded. The U.S. Constitution's first-amendment guarantee of free speech has limitations directly connected to public safety; the exact same consideration must be restored to the second amendment's right to keep and bear arms. Best of all would be to modify that amendment, but a close second might be to require all gun owners to become part of a "well regulated Militia." Whatever the ultimate solution, let's keep the pressure on the politicians to focus, for a change, on our children's right to stay alive, or be prepared to explain themselves to an angry electorate.

If I'm right that the bullies may soon be, at long last, in retreat, I don't want them to be replaced by progressive bullies. Rage, however righteous, can be dangerously intoxicating. The discipline of "working as if everything depends on God" recognizes that many of our efforts will be tentative and partial and experimental. At first we may simply be shaking off the habits of passivity, before we gain confidence in the ways forward. If we allow ourselves to be heroically critical of the principalities and powers, but cut off those who criticize us, we'll soon be creating new oppressions in place of the ones we fought.

Over thirty years ago, I attended a conference on discernment at Quaker Hill Conference Center. I remember Jan Wood defining discernment, not as finding certainty or uniformity, but learning to turn our faces toward God. That's what realism has come to mean for me.

David Byrne's repost: Guns are about freedom....

A spiritual analysis of gun violence from William De Arteaga.

Brian Beutler tours the confusing funhouse of rightwing conspiracy theories. (Reminder from last summer that the "left" is not immune.)

Election day in Russia is March 18. In Yekaterinburg, people are discussing just about anything else.

Friday PS: Another victory for citizens making noise: a Russian professor, fired for protesting low pay, is reinstated.

Roger Ridley and Grandpa Elliott, together for the last time on a Playing for Change video...

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