At a recent blogger conference, the conversation inevitably turned to the current geopolitical situation, enough to suddenly train everyone’s tines face-up at the table. There were terse and worried words laced with an otherwise and nervous humor. A friend quoted, ‘Humor is the anesthesia before one begins to operate.’ And operation—it does seem necessary each successive day one opens up a social media feed, else turns on the TV.
The German expatriate Bertolt Brecht was graver in his summary of things back in 1936, and when he was less about anesthetic humor than he was of bile. From his self-imposed exile in Denmark, where Brecht fled Germany’s rising fascism, he penned a three-part poem, ‘To Those Born Later’. He wrote: “What kinds of times are they, when/ A talk about trees is almost a crime/ Because it implies silence about so many horrors?” This was simultaneously a lament, but also an urge to action.
Perhaps it’s what the thief, too, of Dylan’s ‘All Along the Watchtower’ meant when he said: “So let us not talk falsely now/ The hour is getting late.” He said this to the joker, who just wanted a way out.
Is the hour getting late? And why would even the thief say so?
Progress is at peril currently. So many years fought clawing for equality, only to be disrupted by a single election cycle with an ideological wrench meant to stop the gears.
Climate change is hastening. It used to be that, “Is there life on Mars?’ was rhetorical whimsy; now leading scientists are asking, “Can there be life on Mars?” Stephen Hawking himself wonders aloud if the next great exodus need be next-planet bound.
LGTBQ rights seemed guaranteed, thirty-five years after Stonewall, and when the White House itself lit up in explosive rainbow colors following the Supreme Court verdict to uphold and normalize same-sex marriage. Now new stonewalls, both literal and figurative, are on the build.
‘Your tired, your poor, the tempest-tossed’ are specific words chiseled into the copper and steel Lady who welcomes all into Ellis Island, who simultaneously guards against what used to be only-overseas tyranny. Executive Orders from within are eroding her pedestal with the merest scratch of a pen.
A woman’s right to choose is being hastily dismantled frame-by-frame through White House photo ops, which feature suited men only, all smirking.
Ferguson is sidestepped by rhetorically-dismissive rallies of ‘All Lives Matter’, campaigners with one hand on a picket sign, the other a cold dead one clutching the handle of a gun.
The new Dept. of Education misspells its first victories while heralding privatization of a publically secured right.
Democracy is questioned as Election Night numbers create a sudden and new math.
Let us not talk falsely now, let us not talk of trees.
It’s important to know that regress has its speed bump in the vanguards of progress. History is not always just about figureheads, but also about people’s movements. Advocates, many times anonymous, are the actual element of change; progress is either raised or restored when collective voices rise to defeat a fast-seeming decline.
In which case, humor sometimes does act as anesthesia; a talk of trees is an almost crime, but not exactly one; change operates with forbearance and community and the need to exactly resist.