Critical thinking amid a nightmare

Really feeling Kipling’s “If,” as another week of this nightmare commences. “If you can keep your head when all about you / Are losing theirs…”

This is difficult.

Today the Bill Moyers site published someone’s hot-take about how it’s time to rise up and resist physically instead of just crouching at your computer, and someone shared it on Twitter, and I read the article because I was curious about the inclusion of the word “strategically” in the summary. Unfortunately the article didn’t really mention any kind of strategic thinking at all.

I have started wondering about the indications that the standoff outside the courthouse in Portland seems to have become its own cause. Seems, in fact, to have become almost a live-theatre satire of how subsumed most of our political concepts and practices have become in ritual. As best I can tell, Trump’s secret police and opposing demonstrators are staging a scheduled, nightly quasi-seige of a court building in Portland; at the end of each round everyone goes home then returns the next night.

The actions of the secret police have some kind of strategic concept behind them, essentially poke sticks in the eyes of Trump’s political opponents and provoke violence in hopes that the sight of this will juice voter turnout among Trump’s shrinking base of support. This is both evil and mad, of course. But the opposing actions seem like another kind of madness.

“Wall of Moms” reminds us that this is all about Black Lives Matter, but I don’t see a strategic objective, related or unrelated. I can’t help suspecting that this confrontation has become its own objective, because “we can’t back down and let them have the victory.” This seems, upon reflection, to cede one’s initiative to one’s opponent, and may be a very important reminder to have not only a strategy but an exit strategy.

I hesitate even to post this here, below the fold on my entirely unnoticed web site. My sympathies are entirely with the demonstrators, in this conflict, and the dispatch of the secret police is an unacceptable outrage. I have done plenty of demonstrating in the past five years, as well, and I still yank the chains of the various Republicans who are supposed to be public servants answerable to constituencies which include me.

But a point comes when one realizes, I think, that expressing resistance is not going to achieve any objective besides itself. Republicans have decided to proceed without regard for public approval, let alone public service. “We march to the ballot box, or we march to the battlefield,” and for all that Portland has many characteristics of a battlefield, I don’t think that peaceful protest—of a government which has no reaction to peaceful protest except to attack it—counts exactly as marching to the battlefield.

Of course I have acknowledged that “just V-O-T-E” looks less and less convincingly adequate, and I just don’t know. I’m not sure that there is a convincing answer right now.

We are in a mad nightmare and I think it’s important above all to retain critical thinking and some sense of which direction is reality.

Responding only with “we must do something, this is something, therefore we must do this” seems like embracing the madness.

Yet we are at a point where it seems like the madness is enveloping us, and the question of whether or not to embrace it seems increasingly academic.


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