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Wednesday, July 17, 2019


When I was quite young, I became obsessed with the stories of wealthy Jews who could have escaped the Nazis had they been ready to forfeit their wealth, but who hesitated until it was too late and ended up in the death camps.  What I fixated on was not the money but the notion that there might be times in my life when I had to recognize a threat [or indeed an opportunity] in time and had to act at that moment if at all.  In 1962, during the Cuban Missile Crisis, I recognized that this was one of those moments.  If I delayed getting out of Hyde Park [I was teaching at the University of Chicago], by the time I tried to leave the roads would be jammed and it would be impossible to get a flight.  I had reservations on flights to Canada and Mexico [depending on which way the wind was blowing] and stocked my VW bug with a Geiger counter and dried food.

Thirty years later, in 1992, when Esther Terry invited me to transfer from the UMass Philosophy Department to the W. E. B. Du Bois Department of Afro-American Studies, I instantly saw that my welcome into the department would depend on my eagerness to join it, and instead of saying judiciously “Well, that is a very interesting idea.  Let me think about it.” I said “yes” without missing a beat, and spent the last sixteen years of my career happy as a clam.

This time feels that way to me.  I am very fearful that if Trump wins re-election, my world will be made irreversibly worse in major ways.  I do not want to look back, during my last years on earth, and regret that I did not do more to stop him.


Anonymous said...

You can only do what you can do. There is no point in obsessing over "more things to do".

Console yourself by reminding yourself of how many, many times in history the "end was at hand" but people struggled through. Yes, today is scary. But it is likely people will survive. If we are lucky, bad things are the seeds for a better tomorrow.

I remember pondering doomsday scenarios from the late 1950s on. But I decided it was insane to "flee" because if doomsday did arrive, the world would not be a place where I wanted to live. Sometimes you just have to accept your fate. The world is far bigger than you, far bigger than your people/nation/generation, far bigger than humanity.

When I start to obsess I stop and realize we live on one small planet circling one mediocre sun in a galaxy of hundred billion or so suns, in a visible universe of several hundred billion galaxies. My "problems" are insignificant in the face of the vastness of "the universe". Who are we to think that all this was built to revolve around our needs or my pressing "concerns" about today.

I'm not counseling despair or apathy. I'm saying, have perspective. There have been bad and evil politicians/dictators/kings/emperors in the past. People survived. The real life is not the drama of your personal life or of your "life and times". It is the grand flow of life on this planet. Life that has been growing and transforming for billions of years. What is an individual in the face of the vastness of time, of the universe?

If you seek solace, read poets, read literature, find great music to listen to. And the most important thing you can do, recognize that you have your own small part to play and take up your tiny burden and carry it forward with as much dignity as you can. That ultimately is all that you can do. Don't try to take the "burdens of the world" onto your own shoulders. Seek fellowship of purpose with your fellow human beings. And as the Brits said in WWII "Keep Calm and Carry On!"

TheDudeDiogenes said...

Prof, After your latest two posts, my mind finds itself recalling the oft-quoted-here line from The Sting, about accepting what one gets, because it's all one's gonna get (or give, as the case may be).

I just started listening to this lecture from Brian Leiter, The Truth Is Terrible, and it seems incredibly apt.

David Palmeter said...

I was all but oblivious to the Cuban Missile Crisis when it was going on. In the Fall of 1962, I was across the Midway from you, at the Law School. I lived in an apartment in Hyde Park with two others, but we had no TV, only radios. I listened to WFMT most of the time, classical except for the Midnight Special on Saturday nights--folk music and comedy. We saw the headlines but didn’t buy papers regularly. (Never bought the Tribune--it was Col. MacCormack’s right wing rag). The headlines didn’t convey to any of us the seriousness of what was going on. I don’t recall any discussion of it at school. It appeared to be similar to the Berlin Crisis that had occurred are year of so earlier, and that didn’t turn out to be all that much. It wasn’t until I got home for the winter break that I learned what had happened.

Jerry Fresia said...

I was thinking about your question “What can I do?” Absent from the list of things that you have been doing is this: organizing. Organizing what or whom depends upon your own vision and sense of strategy. I tend to equate the concept with doing something more inventive than solely participating in the traditional venues provided for us given Audre Lorde’s notion that “the master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house.”

I also thought of the “six degrees of separation” thing. For example, I happen to have two friends, who know George W. Bush fairly well. Surely, given your many academic friends and contacts (and theirs), you must be within a couple of degrees of separation from men and women with real power.

Third, you are a brilliant writer. Why not send out a “try men’s souls” type letter (you’ve already done this in your various blogs) to as many appropriate friends and contacts urging them to do X or sign petition Y. What “X” and “Y” could be, of course, brings us back to strategy, but at minimum it could open the discussion at a rather lofty level. A letter forcefully urging the removal of the President from office, signed by 1,000 scholars and sent to every member of Congress and reported by the MSM, would not be a bad thing.

s. wallerstein said...

The analogy with the Cuban missile crisis doesn't work well. Actually, if nuclear war had broken out, you would have had a half an hour warning, if that, and there would have been no time to get to the airport and in addition, commercial flights would have been grounded. Survival would have been a question of pure luck.

In this situation, there is a lot that you, as public intellectual, can do. As Jerry Fresia points out, you are a brilliant writer and you might try to write more about what you see occurring and to publish what you write in media with a greater readership than your blog. There are lots of new online alternative media which might be very interested in what you have to say.

Finally, as you have previously pointed out, this is a long march, a long struggle and whether or not Trump is re-elected, we might well win in the end, rationality might well triumph. You do your part, you do what you can, you do what you feel most suited to do and you hope that others will follow your path.

Anonymous said...

I'm not sure this is the kind of reassurance you're looking for, or indeed any kind of reassurance at all, but I found this--publicised on a site I think you're sympathetic towards--interesting: