Do Not Despair

(Thus it begins.)

Now that close to a day has passed since Kerry’s loss, it’s time for those of us who supported him to move on to supporting real people who need our help. I’ve heard far too many people say “with all that’s coming in the next four years, it’s better that it’ll happen on the other guy’s watch.” But this is a specious argument, with an almost cancerous ill will attached.

The objective now, as always, should be to reduce pain, death and suffering. And there are plenty of opportunities to work towards this, whoever America may have picked for its president.

Best case – and it’s not so preposterous – Bush is not an evil man. He may be surrounded by ruthless war criminals and scandalously untruthful statesmen, but it’s hard to believe that he wants other human beings to suffer. Not even brown ones. Although his triumphalist methodology leaves something to be desired, it has been tempered by America’s quite limited means to make war. There’s simply no more money in the war chest. There’s nothing like penury to make a dove of a hawk.

I’ve heard many say this is now, officially, the end of an empire – that we’re in the equivalent of the fall of the Roman Empire. I think that’s a bit hyperbolic, but even if it’s true, perhaps it can happen this time with a little less bloodshed. America’s global influence will wane, and the emergence of a genuine global marketplace will teach our business culture about the sometimes cruel reality of a market system. If Europe emerges as an economic power, or if the Euro becomes the standard currency for oil transactions, this will happen sooner than later.

As for Christian fundamentalism, well, I don’t think an apocalypse scenario is the purest or even most obvious reading of the Bible. Rather than shunning the study of myth in our public schools, perhaps it would be the left’s best choice to embrace it. I’ve always found that actually reading the Bible helps dispell most of my fears about what I’ve been told it says. If children were to study the holy scriptures of the West and of other cultures, they might just be able to take a more enlightened approach towards them.

Meanwhile, I think this election has taught us a valuable lesson in the diminishing returns on negativity. Indeed, there’s some terrible stuff going on, and I believe more human beings will die violently or needlessly as a result of the outcome. I won’t deny that. And while I detests “movements,” a majority of people in our nation still use traditional narratives to understand their situation. As the world gets increasingly complex, we tend to rely even more heavily on the dualities – things like “us and them” – that help us map the terrain and tell friend from foe.

It’s the job of thinking people to come up with metaphors and goals that satisfy the human urge for certainty of purpose, while preventing ourselves from mistaking those maps for the territory. We’ve got some time to do that, now.

And the best lesson of all would be for us to find opportunities to help the current regime succeed – not necessarily in the goals they’ve set out, but in making the world a kinder more loving place, just like Christ said.

Worst case, if Bush and our nation are really one big ‘dry drunk,’ then we can’t be helped by anyone else. We’ve got to hit bottom before we can begin recovery. And if this is what’s happening, then our job as artists and thinkers remains the same: reduce the damage to others, and prepare new models of a “higher power” for the long journey back.