Wednesday, July 21, 2010
Is Change Impossible (Part 3)
Coda: 16 Impossible Things Before Breakfast
Well, I thought I was done — until I wasn’t.
I think Bliss assumes, like many so-called rational people on the left, that social change is primarily an intellectual and political problem. Bliss writes of an anguish “no amount of scholarship can heal” as if it would be possible to study your way out of despair, but you can’t. The only way out of hopelessness is, oddly enough, hope itself.
Before I first read Bliss’ piece, I was working on a passage in my novel in which my main character, Morian, is having dinner with Lillian Ruby, the head of a huge biotech firm, probably one of the most powerful organizations in that world. Before detailing his version of the geopolitical history of the region, Ruby asks Morian what her political leanings are. She gives a noncommittal answer; the truth is she’s been politically inert for a long time, ever since she left the movement because of its lack of imagination. Ruby counters Morian’s lackluster response by quoting to her the last sentences she ever posted to a political forum: The revolution is coming, but if you keep looking where you’ve been looking, you will never see it. It dresses in colors you have never worn; it is written in a language you have yet to speak.
At first Morian pretends not to remember the post, but then she finally admits to Ruby the reaction to her post was far from positive. She was imagining possibilities at the edge of language, almost beyond the limits of human imagination. She couldn’t make her comrades understand, so she just gave up.
“I’m not surprised,” Lillian Ruby tells her. “Politics is the art of the possible. You wanted people to conceive of the beyond possible, which is usually the domain of religion.”
I was revising that particular section today when something hit me: in order to effect change, you must first believe in it. You have to have the courage to imagine 16 impossible things before breakfast. You have to have faith. To be successful, activism has to have a strong intellectual, political and spiritual foundation.
I essentially ended Part 2 of this series with a declaration of faith. I will continue to work for change because I believe I must and because I believe in my blood it is possible.
Now I realize “faith” and “spiritual” are loaded terms. You either think of Bible thumping fundamentalists or airy fairy New Agers. But it was no accident the Civil Rights movement was based, for a large part, in churches. That was the perfect place for many people to gain the fortitude to begin a journey towards the impossible, because moving towards what Obama called, a “more perfect union” in one of his better speeches, certainly seemed near impossible to many of them at the time.
The arts can serve a similar function. (And no, I don’t mean didactic pieces that preach mainly to the choir, although those can serve a purpose.) The arts can give us the inner resources to fight the impossible fight, by imagining the way to light, by reminding us the world is worth saving even when we think it’s doomed to hell, and by providing encouragement during those inevitable long, dark nights of the soul. If we are to actively build our future, we must have the courage and imagination to dream it first.