Follow the Leaders: one piece in a series by artist Isaac Cordal.
You may have seen the piece of art above already. It has been bouncing around the internet for some years now, often billed as “politicians debating sea level rise” or “…climate change.” Well, it kind of isn’t, and it kind of is, and following the link in the caption might shed some light on it.
It is a FANTASTIC representation, inadvertent or otherwise, specifically of the current US GOP/Trumpite approach to climate change and rising sea levels.
And that approach…
…yeah. That’s going to be SUPER EFFECTIVE.
But our Fearless Glorious Leader and his Band of
Thugs Merry Men (they’d surely call it sexist to acknowledge the women who choose to support him rather than lump them together under a masculine collective) aren’t restricting themselves to climate change. If you’ve been following current political events, he/they is/are not just ignoring climate change science, but rolling back environmental protections that have cleaned up industry-polluted land, water, and air over the last 40 years, acting to revive coal use and hobble the increasing use of solar and wind power generation, which I might add, is rising because it is now cost effective due to technological advances perpetrated by that terrible villain, science.
In other words, the 21st century is SCARY and THINGS ARE CHANGING and LET’S HIDE IN THE 20TH CENTURY. Unless you’re a public school student, in which case they’re shooting for the 19th century. No, really. The target there is getting rid of all those troublesome public schools and leaving education to corporations and churches, which I’m sure will work out great in an alternate timeline where suddenly technology stops working.
The only problem is that hiding in the past is a gigantic mistake, and it will always be. Yes, there’s such a thing as tradition. But traditions only make sense as long as they help people. If things change and they become harmful, or you realize they’ve been harmful all along and we don’t have a need to accept that harm — I’M LOOKING AT YOU COAL WITH YOUR BLACK LUNG AND OPEN PITS AND TOXIC RUNOFF AND OH WHAT A SHOCK BURNING THOUSANDS OF ANCIENT FORESTS IN CONCENTRATED FORM EVERY DAY MIGHT RELEASE GASES THAT CHANGE THE CLIMATE A TAD GEE WHIZ WHO WOULDA THUNK IT — then you say “yay, positive change!” and start using wind turbines to charge your iThingiee. And we all breathe a little easier, and people who live near the ocean like me start thinking that maybe, just maybe, our descendants won’t have to flee farther inland in the 22nd century.
(Originally appeared on Patreon on the 6th of December, 10 days ago)
The election of Trump — literally a caricature of stereotypical US flaws of arrogance, greed, vanity, and privileged brattiness — to the presidency has added notes of fear and worry to my vision of the future.
Well, I’ve long been a bit of a cynic. Maybe I should say more and louder notes of fear and worry.
Maybe you have similar feelings.
But also maybe I have a little extra insight into what that fear can mean, what damage it can inflict on us. If we allow it. And assuming the damage isn’t involuntary and external like a trade war wrecking the economy or World War 3 doing more literal wrecking.
I have the insight of having been paralyzed by fear of the future.
In my boyhood, my family moved frequently. Some people deal with that well.
I, an emotionally sensitive boy with an unstable home life — poverty, parents who argued frequently and loudly and worryingly — did not deal with it well. At all.
I cycled through ten schools (that I can remember — I won’t swear that there wasn’t an 11th) from kindergarten through ninth grade.
I stopped remembering peoples’ names, even their faces. Because they were transient. Because the world was unstable. Because I felt I couldn’t count on anything. Not anything at all, especially people.
To this day I have great difficulty remembering names and faces. Or what people do for a living, what their hobbies are, what they like and dislike.
I had become afraid of the future, and so I began to behave as if the future did not exist. As if I did not have a future at all.
The future only existed for me when I read science fiction. The future of science fiction was an abstraction. It was conjectural, imaginary, of the mind. And if it was in my mind, it was something I could count on.
It was safe in a way the future of my own life was not. Science fiction was my refuge, along with fantasy and history.
Maybe some of you feel the same.
As I progressed through high school — a relatively stable time, perhaps ironically; I stayed in the same school all four years but avoided engaging, waiting for it, too, to change — my fear stayed by my side. My grades declined. My teachers were a faceless blur, along with most of my peers. When it was time to consider college or a trade I avoided taking control. I avoided making any decisions.
I’d already decided, down deep in my marrow, that choosing was for suckers. That the fearful future was a negative thing that inflicted itself upon me. Beyond my control, a force of nature, like a tornado.
The only thing I could control, in my mind, was science fiction. There, I could wish for a future and see it happen. There I could hope.
I wrote a bit back then. Poetry and the occasional short story.
I had no ambitions for those stories. Imagining the futures that other people wrote was safe. But if I wrote them, let others read them, sent them out into the world to be considered for publication, tried to actually be a writer — that would be entering the real future and having real hope and I wasn’t ready for that at all.
That would require setting aside that fear of the future. I couldn’t bring myself to do it, think about it, even dream a little about it.
I wasn’t ready, then, to face a hope outside of fiction, a hope that would carry with it the responsibility of work and the responsibility of change and the responsibility of failing and having to try again and again and maybe look foolish in a way others might see.
Fear is like that. It grows. It expands its roots and extends its grasp from one part of your life to another. Like pernicious weeds engulfing field after field if left unplucked.
It took time and pain and effort and support and even lucky circumstance to overcome those deep-rooted and broad-branched fears of the future in my own life.
And overcoming does not mean they are gone, does not mean that I no longer have to fight them. I do. Nothing rooted so deep is uprooted without leaving scars. The fear left many buried seeds. I will always be weeding, every day I live.
Maybe this sounds familiar to you in some way.
You know, it’s good to have a refuge like reading science fiction. It is also good to realize that you cannot live in a refuge.
I cannot live in a refuge. Whether it’s from my own writing or the uncertainties of the rest of the world or from the damage that Donald Trump, President can do to our society and the rest of the world.
Having rediscovered hope, I must hope. And real hope means doing what you can to make the future a little better.
For me, that means writing about the future and trying to get paid for doing so. It means making myself plan and strive for a future of my own even when the fears and the doom that comes with them are upon me yet again.
It means advocating for a better future for us all. Taking up what tiny corner of that enormous task I might be able to grasp, even if it’s as puny as raising my voice in a blog or on social media.
It means trying to remember names and faces even though I have come to realize that I will never really be good at it, not after spending so much time hopeless and disconnected.
It means writing things like this even though it is painful and I worry that I will look like a fool (of course I will, to someone — someone always sneers).
Because maybe this will seem familiar to you, and maybe reading things like this readied me to have hope again, many years ago.
…I thought I’d share a series of my tweets on the subject with you all. I started with a sad reply to the first tweet below…
After I tweeted “nobody wants to touch this tweet,” a couple of people were moved to retweet it — whether they simply noticed it a little later than it was tweeted or they were responding to my ‘nobody wants’ statement, I don’t know.
But I do know this: a lot of folks are very quick to condemn group X that they are not personally part of or acquainted with when something bad hits the news. The worse the news, the louder the outcry.
But those same folks don’t condemn the group when the person who is guilty is part of their own group or a group they are well acquainted with on a positive personal level. Then, they’re all about “well the ones who did this awful things weren’t REALLY part of group X” or “you have to blame the individual.”
Since this series of tweets touches upon the 9/11 terrorist attack, I’ll go with Islam for a moment. Yes, the perpetrators identified as Muslim. Yes, there’s a nasty vein of violent extremism that supports or perpetrates awful things — think 9/11 attackers or ISIS or Boko Haram.
That doesn’t have a hell of a lot to do with the people FLEEING this kind of violence who are also Muslim, no more than an Italian fleeing Mussolini in the 1930s had to do with Fascist violence.
There are people who identify as Christian in the United States who talk about doing the kind of thing that ISIS or Boko Haram is doing. They talk about assassinating politicians they don’t agree with and blowing things up and bringing about the rule of their particular view of their denomination of their branch of the religion they identify as. I’m using that “identify with/as” language very deliberately, by the way. “They’re not real [religion]” is often said, and often with reason. Most mainstream religious believers or agnostic or cultural-but-not-believing individuals don’t think blowing up buildings or murdering or even waging war is a great idea. They’d rather do without this whole “war” thing.
And that’s my point. It’s not to say that Christians want to blow up federal buildings or Muslims want to raze villages in Nigeria. Quite the opposite. And it’s not to say there’s no danger in the actions or words of extremists who claim that there needs to be violence in the name of imposing their vision of religion or ideology Z. There is. There’s a lot of danger. And these people who would do violence often move within the body of the larger society seeking the opportunity to inspire or perpetrate violence. That’s undeniable.
Let’s be honest: it’s scary. The odds say we’re more likely to be struck down by lightning than extremists in the vast majority of locales. But it’s still scary — the press and their breathless reporting (OMG DID YOU SEE THAT WE’RE ALL GOING TO DIE, the crawl on CNN and the headline in the paper say daily, because it gets attention and eyeballs and clicks and advertiser attention) isn’t helping a bit in that regard.
But what we need to do is NOT cast an assumptive eye on all people who share some superficial common identification with murderers. What we need to do is what we’re already doing — and sadly often overdoing in the name of that assumptive eye. We need to watch for the murderous. And we need to do it, whenever we can possibly manage it and even when it’s “too hard,” without that assumptive eye on the innocent. That assumptive eye, when it turns to action that harasses and imposes judgment, is the easiest thing extremists use as evidence that the world hates ALL of whatever-dom and they must lash out to clear a place for their religion or ideology or whatever to live.
I welcome your comments.
Here’s a little bit of microfiction for you to enjoy. As happens often in fiction, it’s based on a real place and a real experience. I’ll leave you to decide which parts are fiction and which are not.
Copyright 2015 S.A. Barton
The eighteen-wheelers roar by above; the bridge over the creek is shorter than they are long.
Below, in the creek, cool water parting for thin boy shins, sun beating his back darker, darker, the boy crouches, peering down.
His hands part the toy cataract above a stone wearing a sleek skirt of algae filaments.
Backwards, the greeny-brown crayfish flees into the shadow gathered under the stone.
Another eighteen-wheeler approaches; low diesel thunder.
Little fingers chase after the crayfish, darting through the dark under the stone. Above, thunder, thunder, thunder, closer.
The boy grunts, smiles, flips the stone, algae skirt flaring wild.
The crayfish squirts backwards all in a burst.
THUNDER the truck mounts the bridge.
Long, long, bony arms streak out of the dark under the little bridge, faster than crayfish and boys, stretching out of a lank green shadowed crouchy shape.
Overhead the truck thunder recedes and dissipates into the distance.
The shallow creek waters fill, then pass over smooth a lost shoe mired fast in the mud.
The crayfish climbs inside, taking refuge.