Tuesday, June 2, 2020

The Final Solution: Civil Disobedience and Mourning

The exchanging of expressions of grief (as in the case of the recent murder of George Floyd), of horror (at the Tweets like “when the looting starts, the shooting starts”) or rage (at latest presidential order repealing a hard won human advance), can become like a salutation. You may even feel that the emotion is trivialized by its repetition and uniformity. People who prize speech as a unique expression of consciousness become bothered when their words become co-opted or deafened as they become part of a chorus. You may want to do something, but as an individual who lends a particular imprint and set of stipulations on your utterances. Of course, voting comprises the same problem. Say you’re a democrat in a heavily blue state like New York, why bother going to the polls, if it’s not going to make a difference and ditto in a heavily red state where the outcome of elections is often a fait accompli? Some clergymen suggest silence in the face of mourning and grief. What are you going to say to someone who has lost a beloved spouse or relative? Expressions of consolation tend to be pro forma and any attempt to be reassuring or encouraging can be a major irritant to someone who's inundated with darkness. Showing up turns out to be all that you can do and its impact is increased when there’s no attempt to make one’s individual presence felt. Less is more. On a collective level, this is the power of the silent march and the kind of civil disobedience that both Gandhi and Martin Luther King advocated. Of course, the value of civil disobedience is countermanded by those who say that if no one was listening before, silence is like closing the lid on the coffin. And that’s a point that’s equally hard to deny.

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