Broken Turtle Blog

Broken Turtle Blog

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.


  1. Here's some more impossible things to imagine: that art can surprise the audience with reality, that it can overcome fear and hatred, that it can inspire solidarity and action.

  2. PLEASE NOTE: I am LOREN BLISS -- not "anonymous" (and in fact I scorn "anonymous" posters as insufferable cowards) -- but after two hours of frustrating effort, it seems this is the only way Blogspot will allow me to post; despite the fact I am a writer/photographer with a career spanning half a century and have a well-established Typepad blog, it seems I am officially banned here. (I've no idea why; perhaps Blogspot is merely complying with the Ruling Class policy of methodically suppressing all genuine advocates of socialism.) Nevertheless...

    Hello, Mr. Bannowsky; my apology for my belated response, but I had been offline due to computer failure since 26 June (though until 12 July I still had email), and I returned to the sturm und drang only last night. Then it took me until noon today to find a path around the aforementioned Blogspot obstructions.

    In response to your gracious invitation, yes I am certainly willing to cross-post, but not in any length until tomorrow at the very earliest, as I have an enormity of catching-up to do.

    Meanwhile though I have read the relevant Brokenturtleblog essays and appreciate both their logic and the eloquence with which it is expressed, though I would respectfully suggest their author reacquaint himself with the Sartre/Camus (and yes -- gasp! -- 12-step-group) principle that we cannot begin to gain power over our oppressors until we have acknowledged the deepest and most painful truths of our powerlessness -- the vital first step the U.S. Left refuses like some spoiled brat to even consider: no doubt a symptom of the extent it continues to identify with the oppressor.

    Which should not only give you a sense of where this conversation might go but of the enthusiasm I will bring to it. Until then, thank you.

    Loren Bliss

  3. Greetings Mr. Bliss,

    I'm glad to see you back among the virtual living. I am the author of Is Change Impossible? (Parts 1—3) and I was hoping that one day we'd cross paths in cyberspace.

    First of all, I'd like to let you know I'm not a man, not that it matters to me one way or another, but I'd thought you might like to know.

    I do appreciate the level of powerlessness of the left, which is one reason your essay affected me so deeply. If I were a totally rational person, I would have given up a long time ago.

    But to use your 12 step analogy...An alcoholic might be powerless over drink itself, but she/he has the power to decide not to drink. This is not as easy to do as it is to type, since by the time most addicts seek help, their entire lives are built around abusing their substance of choice. Most of their friends are addicts and most of their social lives center around using. Plus, physically, they need their particular substance just to feel normal. To truly recover (which many addicts never do, by the way; they merely replace one addiction with another, attending meetings with the same obsessiveness they once used) the addict essentially has to start from scratch. How many people do you know who are really willing to do that? And if the world is as broken as we know it is, isn't that what we really have to do?

    As for continuing to identify with the oppressor, that's a tough one. Capitalism is essentially a partial reinforcement system, which any undergraduate who's had to chase pigeons around a psych lab will tell you, is the hardest type of behavioral conditioning to break. Say you have three elevators: one that never works, one that works consistently and one that only works when it feels like it. If all three were available, you'd choose the elevator that works consistently, avoid like the plague the one that never works and use the finicky one only when the first elevator is out of order.

    But capitalism, the elevator that only works when it feels like it, is the only game in town. Everybody knows somebody who knows somebody who knows somebody who's soared from humble beginnings, so the word is when this elevator works, it really works. So people are willing to wait on this elevator forever, thinking if they do the right things, they might one day get lucky. No one even thinks of taking the stairs (are there stairs?) because what if that's the one day the elevator's working and they miss out because they've decided to hoof it?

    So, yeah, like I said, it's tough. But I never said it wasn't. What we have to do is be willing to step into the unknown. I'm crazy enough to try. Are you?

    Peace — and maybe we'll cross paths again soon.

  4. Hello, Ms. McMillan, Loren Bliss again. Your response inspired an entire essay in reply, too long for this space but posted here: I hope you find it useful and therefore worthy of answering, not the least because I'm beginning to enjoy our dialogue.

  5. Hello again, Franetta...before you respond, please note I made several revisions to "Back/Responding" and also introduced some visual relief in its typography. These changes were all for clarity -- no alterations in meaning -- but I should have made them before I posted. Alas I had been playing keyboard-catchup for nearly 16 hours and did not realize until today (and that with some embarrassment), my Inner Editor had fallen asleep long before I hit the "publish" button.

    That said, I'm looking forward to your response.


    By the way, I'm intrigued by the title of one of your poems, "The Klanman's Daughter." Is there any place I could find its text? Nobody local (Tacoma WA) seems to have a copy of Gargoyle, though there's one very good neighborhood bookstore here I haven't yet been able to reach.

  6. Technical note regarding problems in signing other than anonymous. I tested our system. I made a short comment ("test") and then opened the drop-down menu below the comment dialogue box that says "Comment as: Select profile..." I got a menu that included Google Account, LiveJournal, WordPress, TypePad, AIOM, and OpenID. I selected Google Account and then Post Comment and the comment was published as "Phillip Banowsky said...." It may make you sign in to your respective account first. I must admit, after trying this several times, there was a glitch, but all things equal, it should work.

  7. Franetta...

    Thank you for the poem; please see my comments on OAN. Meanwhile I've done some further editing of my blog post, chiefly mastering the emotional smoke enough to produce a more properly focused account of the fire, including the hitherto-omitted element that made it so devastating -- and such an eternally embittering teachable moment.


  8. Phillip...Thank you. Apparently the problem is that Blogspot does not recognize Typepad documentation. Nothing I tried (including your suggestion) seems to overcome this obstruction.


  9. Loren,
    I did another test where under "Comment as: Select porofile..." I selected from the drop-down menu "Name/URL." I got a dialogue box with 2 fields, one for my name and another for a URL. I wrote in my name and left the URL box blank. Then I was prompted to copy a distorted security code and it worked as the above test indicates (and here, too, I hope).

  10. Good afternoon, Franetta. Certain especially evocative parts of your letter inspired a response which I began this morning -- you have me focusing on matters long avoided (not necessarily a pleasant process but surely a productive one) -- and it has since turned into another essay I hope to have up late tonight, though with more editorial care than the first one.

    Meanwhile -- especially since I truly was abandoning as pointless (and ultimately just too damn depressing) the OAN purpose of commenting on Fourth Reich politics -- this dialogue seems to be moving OAN in a new direction (perhaps, appropriately, into the Unknown that interests both of us), which is a change of content I had desired for some time but which you should take full credit for bringing (mothering) into form (or more appropriately, though there was no such word until now, formfulness).

    More soon...


  11. Phillip...obviously your solution works, for which many thanks.