We have a week left with the most decent man who’s ever likely to be the President of the United States in our lifetime. Seven days until our tradition of peaceful transfer of power — among the most honorable traditions on this planet — leads us to hand the reins of our nation to the man chosen by our system, which has, for only the third time in our history, overruled the majority of our people. One hundred sixty-eight hours until our President is a man who would make most of us want to shower thoroughly after shaking his hand. Twice.
I’m not sure I know what to make of this. My emotions run from revulsion to disbelief to disappointment. And as I consider this, I’ve realized that there’s something missing.
I’m really not afraid. What’s there to fear? My world will largely remain static. My own circle of friends will continue to be there for each other, my family isn’t going to suffer – I’m pretty good at my job. Other than the most basic breakdown of society, there’s really not much that can ruin my day. And that’s great. For me, I guess.
So what’s this ball of ice doing, deep in the pit of my stomach?
Recently, while watching coverage of election aftermath, I heard a talking head refer to The ‘sorting’ of America – our division into homogeneous groups defined largely by our fears, and facilitated by what’s become a customizable life experience. See, we don’t have to share anything anymore. We don’t share news anymore, so we don’t share facts. We’re walled into the echo chamber – which has become the phrase of the season – of our own opinions, and confirmation bias has become the intellectual order of the day. Nothing is true anymore; there is only ‘truthiness’ to consider.
It’s a strange paradox in this era of information that the ready availability and indexing of all human knowledge has made us more insular than ever. While it’s certainly true that all the wisdom of the ages is at our fingertips, instantly searchable by the devices on our desks, our walls and in our pockets, it is also true that the infinite, universal random access of the digital age has made it more possible than ever to select that which pleases us, skipping right past that with which we do not wish to concern ourselves. We pass over challenges to our ideology as inconvenient. We hit the skip button on alternative ideas, like our least-favorite track on our iPod’s eternal playlist. And we listen over and over again to that which pleases us the most – the things that reinforce the ideas which we are already inclined to believe.
We’re not waking up in this age of information. We’re being lulled to sleep.
In the end we shall make thought-crime literally impossible, because there will be no words in which to express it. Every concept that can ever be needed will be expressed by exactly one word, with its meaning rigidly defined and all its subsidiary meanings rubbed out and forgotten.
This twisted Zen is a defining characteristic of newspeak. There is no bad, only ungood. You don’t need ‘excellent’ or ‘splendid’ because good works, or plusgood, or doubleplusgood. Thought can only be expressed as the integer value – there is no other side of zero. Being connected means tuning out the contradictions, and purity of thought is the only thing that is acceptable, or you’re not one of us. It’s unpatriotic to dissent, and the extension of that weird double-negative is that it’s patriotic to agree. All fed to us on a silver spoon wielded by a pretty, wealthy blonde something in a suit, behind a spotless modern desk, on a set designed to keep you staring at the wall screen for as long as possible, having both your hopes and fears confirmed by your ideal of the American Dream, and during the breaks, being reminded to believe in only yourself as expressed by your purchase of a $200 pair of running shoes.
It’s no wonder we’re asleep. Sleep feels good. It’s easy, and being awake is hard. We like money, and we like shoes, and we like being told what we already believe, especially when it’s all about ourselves.
Finally, someone has been monster enough to exploit that trait, and predictably, we’ve asked him to do it to us, in the form of an election. You don’t need this commentator to outline the ways in which our President-elect has engaged in doublethought. Somewhere, deep inside, you know. You’ve listened as he’s made promises to eliminate programs and policies and replace them with things that sound an awful lot like the things that are already there – only these ones are the best programs, the greatest programs.. you know, the most wonderful programs that ever were. It’s change you can believe in – not like the last guy who said that. He changed things, and we’re going to change them back, and that’s change you can really believe in, because it’s change like it used to be. We’re gonna make change great again. You’ll see. Trust me, he repeats, until you do. Because it’s easy. He’s wealthy, right, and isn’t that the best suit? It’s a wonderful suit.
He’s not even the President yet and he already has a plan – almost finished! – for your healthcare. Did he ask you what you wanted? Or is he telling you what you need? And you accept it, because it’s easy. He makes it easy.
Some of us haven’t had enough easy in our lives. And that makes easy look gooood.
“Until they become conscious they will never rebel, and until after they have rebelled they cannot become conscious.”
And that brings us back to fear. I’m not really afraid of anything that a man can do to me. I don’t look over my shoulder when I walk down the street. I’m not a bit nervous when I encounter law enforcement. Nobody targets me with laws or policies designed to push me into or keep me confined to my social stratus. My name doesn’t make people throw away resumes or loan applications. Nobody wants to kick me out of a church, a school or to exterminate me altogether because of who I love or what identity helps me to love myself. Nobody wants to deport me while my family remains. Nobody has called me violent, or criminal, or dangerous because of the color of my skin. I do not live with a stereotype that paints me as rebellious, menacing, mentally slow or socially damaged by my assumed family status. Nobody assumes that my father wasn’t around, or that my family is dependent on social aid.
This is my privilege. A life without fear. I can take for granted that I will live through a traffic stop. It never occurs to me that I may be treated unfairly by those who make decisions regarding my future. I go where I want, with who I want, dressed how I want, and nobody says a word. And everybody assumes I’m a hardworking guy who’s good to his family.
As long as I’m ‘normal.’ Acceptable. White cis-hetero male. It’s automatic.
Acceptance is conformity.
“Pull up your pants. Put on a tie. You can’t wear your hair like that – it’s unprofessional.”
Conformity is liberty.
“He was breaking the law. Try being nice to the police. Maybe if you didn’t act that way…”
Submission is freedom.
Success is defined by the successful. Get in line, stay in line, don’t ask questions. ‘Merica.
Don’t think it’s restricted to me, or mine. You aren’t really selling out if it’s for freedom, right? Play the game. Have coffee with the Devil. Go along and get along. Assimilate. If you do what you’re told, they’ll keep their promises. Really – you can have some privilege too. You’re legal – why would we harass or deport you? You’re one of the good guys. You work twice as hard for 75% of my paycheck – you’re acceptable. Nonthreatening. Go ahead – get you some privilege. It’s the best privilege, it’s wonderful privilege. I can give you some privilege. Some. Privilege. Some. But it’s enough. We’re gonna make privilege great again, and we’re gonna give some to everybody. Some.
Orthodoxy means not thinking – not needing to think. Orthodoxy is unconsciousness.
Any freedom granted to you by a man is not freedom, it is privilege. Any privilege granted to you by a man is given in return for a cost he proscribes. A lack of fear is not freedom, it is privilege, and the cost is the fear of others. The existence of privilege is proof that a lack of privilege exists. Lack of fear as a privilege means that society’s normal for the unprivileged is fear. Freedom is only liberation because others don’t have it – when the separation between free and slave no longer exists, there is only.. normal.
Freedom is slavery.
And with it comes the realization that I am a slave to my privilege. And I can only be free when it is destroyed. Not when I cower in fear like the unprivileged, but when there is no fear from which to grant my absolution. For the privileged, freedom is the ultimate slavery. It requires one to choose the blinders of unconcern, to believe that another man’s suffering is acceptable. It requires division – the idea that our fate as human beings is individual and independent. And it requires the willful ignorance of cognitive dissonance, the ability to ignore all evidence to the contrary.
Turn off your television. Turn on your world. Step out of that echo chamber. The only thing worse than being the sum of our fears is being divided by them.
Fear’s divisions keep privilege exceptional. Privilege is the daughter of fear. Freedom through fear is acceptance of your own slavery, in the way that neither slave nor master can be free – both must fear the other. Liberty for all is the opposite of privilege for some, and the opposite of some privilege, therefore liberty is the opposite of fear. And no man can be liberated while any man lives with his fear.
In the end it’s up to me. And up to you. But let me give you one fact to share, to start the ball rolling: Liberty cannot come to a people divided by fear.