Honestly, and not that you’ve asked, but Facebook drives me crazy. It did lead me to think that “moral omniscience and historical ignorance go hand in hand”, and I do love a pithy phrase. Still, it’s depressing to watch, and I’ve just about bitten my tongue clean off.
It’s also fascinating, and hard to look away. I’ve never been one to rubberneck at actual car crashes, because I’m really squeamish about physical harm and the emotional pain that goes along with it. I have a stronger stomach for cultural implosion, at least until the bullets start actually flying.
This is going to come as a news to some, but real war is actually a different thing.
In fact, that gets to what I think of as the common affliction of more or less us all: we judge the world as it is against the standard of a world that never was.
It reminds me of a Creationist zine someone handed me on a college campus many years ago, in which the author dismissed evolution on the grounds that God wouldn’t create a world in which animals had to kill one another to survive.
This unimaginable outrage was illustrated by two t-rex’s chomping at each other’s throats. The horror! What kind of God would create such a world?!? Of course we’re all much too sophisticated to believe in Creationism, and the Fall of Man and Nature thanks to Original Sin, except that our moral minds still do.
Today, for example, a friend posted a long harangue about how America has always been a haven for the downtrodden, and if you’ve forgotten that you’ve become a fascist. It’s a great story, except America was only a haven for Europe’s downtrodden by virtue of a couple centuries of systematic colonization and genocide, not to mention, you know, that whole slavery thing.
It’s like the zionist myth of a “people without a land for a land without a people”. It all depends on what you mean by “people”.
I have no doubt that the people who rail that America is and has always been a haven for the world’s poor are also completely able to dismiss America as a racist, genocidal, patriarchy that needs to redeem its shameful past, without noticing in the slightest that these two extreme ideas of America’s past are mutually exclusive.
And therein, I think, lies a very basic work we all face, of reconciling the fragmented notions of our own worldviews. Langston Hughes was on it when he wrote:
America never was America to me,
And yet I swear this oath—
America will be!
On Facebook very few are even aware of the contradiction to be resolved. Rather, people routinely indulge in moral grandstanding to signal their own virtue and condemn anyone who disagrees with their shallow mythology.
It drives me crazy to watch, but then again, actually resolving our contradictions is work so hard as to be holy.
It is much easier to take a position on a caravan of migrants than to reckon with the explosion of homelessness within this country. No need to seek elsewhere for huddled masses, they’re lining the streets of every urban center.