If you’re a middle-class American with a conscience, it is easy to look around and say, “No one cares.” It certainly can seem that way. It might seem like you and your immediate circle of real-life and internet friends are the only ones who notice there’s a problem. The very idea of alleviating systematic oppression–much less solving it–might appear to you like a pipe dream. Perhaps you find yourself cursing the greater portion of humanity, calling them stupid, decrying their apathy.
Here are a few things to consider:
1. The USA is not the world. Greek workers have shown resistance. They are fighting the US-backed dictatorship in Egypt. The Palestinians, in spite of overwhelming odds and unconscionable brutality, haven’t given up. And so on. So, first step, read some international news: people are fighting back against oppression. It is happening. And, regarding the USA, we are living more and more in a world where what happens in one part affects everything else; the working class in this country cannot help but be affected by international events.
2. Even in this country there are definite signs. Most of us are outside the circle where these things are happening, making them easy to ignore. The Occupy movement may have been ineffective, but it tells us there is outrage, and this outrage, when organized, can turn into action. And we are just now seeing the first, early stirrings of the labor activity, in spite of the horribly fucked state of the US union movement.
3. Take the long view. Over the course of human history in general, and US history in particular, the trend has been for more equality, more justice. As a species, we are still in our infancy, yet we’ve made amazing progress. On the one hand we have the entire sweep of human history, and on the other the current, temporary, limited (and possibly just wrong) view of what some group is thinking at the moment; to which one ought we give more weight? Progress is a thing. It can be very hard, and certainly there is backward movement at times. But there is no good reason to believe progress will stop.
4. Related to the above, and perhaps most important: Study history. We have done amazing things. We have built up productive forces to the point where there is no need for anyone to be hungry, or homeless, or without health care. Democracy and equality–though frighteningly threatened–are broadly considered natural rights now. Take some time to study the details of how we got there. Notice how often great individuals appear when they are needed, and accomplish amazing things; notice how often the consciousness of the masses takes huge leaps and accomplishes even more amazing things. Fight to understand the laws that guide these processes. These laws are still in operation, and that is good news.
5. Science. Just…science. Look what we can do, what we can build, how much we understand. We are beginning to understand even ourselves a little–and one thing about us human monkeys: when we understand things, we use that understanding, and (generally) use it to make things better. And remember that the more we turn to science–the effort to understand the laws of motion of the objective world–to understand social processes, the more we will be able to use that knowledge to direct those processes. Yes, such things are subject to abuse; what isn’t? But having more and better tools available is a good thing.
6. Do not forget human culture in the narrow sense, by which I mean the arts. We’ve done amazing things, things that fill us with pride in being part of the species that did them: Hildegard, Michelangelo, Shakespeare, Mozart. And we’re still trying to do more, to create joy, beauty, and understanding that can be shared across cultures.
7. If you, like me, believe the way forward for humanity is through the destruction of capitalism, remember that every revolution in history has come as a complete shock to those who were not one of the main contending classes, and usually to those who were–even those who were most consciously preparing for it. I don’t know what will happen, or when it will happen, but I predict that everyone, especially me, will be caught off guard when it does.
8. Democracy is the most efficient form of government–fewer police, cheaper in general. The ruling class would prefer to be able to exercise their dictatorship using democratic forms as much as possible, rather than having to support an immense infrastructure of domestic spying, national police forces, prison systems, censorship, and bureaucracy. If the ruling class is trying to destroy democracy, it is a sign of weakness. It means they’re scared. And that means they have something to be scared of. And that is good news for us.
So we keep our collective and individual chins up, support each other, do our work, fight to make sense of things, and try to make the world better. The more we understand, the less reason there is for despair.