The World Feels Like It's Crumbling, So What Do We Do?

I am motivated to write this by the announcement of the death of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, a prominent liberal justice and champion of women’s rights on the U.S. Supreme Court. The moment that my friends and I received the news, the energy that had carried us through the evening all but evaporated, and despair hung heavy in the air.

That word, despair, has lingered in my mind for the past several months, as catastrophe after catastrophe seems to rock our world even as my personal quality of life barely suffers. My privilege means that I am more or less safe from the ravages of the pandemic, police brutality and our current climate catastrophe (excepting the fact my basement has been flooded for over a year now). And yet, slowly but surely, I felt my creativity ebb away, my mind turning often to thoughts of the world outside and the struggle that I didn’t feel I could really help.

Sure, I donated. I shared social media posts. I read and watched the news. I educated myself. But, I only added my voice “silently,” sharing the work of others, and I didn’t protest or take direct action. I felt at once paralyzed and lethargic and apathetic. I couldn’t keep the despair away. I did the bare minimum, and the machinery of my mind that is normally so fired up went to rust.

In times of crisis, that sense of inertia hangs over a lot of us, whether we are good at resisting it or not. The news outlets (and more often than not our news feeds — a remarkably apt word for them) tell us how wrong everything is, and most of us agree, and a lot of us continue to go about our normal lives, just with an ever-mounting sense of dread, because the machinery of life must continue turning. Jobs must be completed. Houses must be cleaned. Food must be eaten. Maybe a few people can go vegan, or not drive their cars as much, or change their profile pictures to the Black Lives Matter fist. Maybe millions of them can, but real systemic change is so much bigger than one person that none of us can really see what any of our individual contributions will do, whatever that contribution may be, and going to a protest is dangerous, and going carbon-neutral is expensive and inconvenient, and you weigh that inconvenience and that danger against the fact that plenty other people will still go to the protest, and one carbon-neutral house isn’t going to stop climate change, and so you don’t do those things, but you still feel like you should, and this sense of dread just grows and grows until it begins to snuff out one’s normal life.

But, if normal life can be snuffed out by inertia and dread and one can go on living, does that not prove that we are strong enough to mess with normal life without losing it?

I’ve seen this inertia in this very opinion section, too. Articles quibble about whether something is justified or about exactly what problems Amherst has inherited in its two-hundred-year lifespan. And I’m not saying those aren’t things we should talk about, but they shouldn’t be the only topics of conversation — that separates us from the world outside Amherst.

I once suggested to my high school journalism adviser that we expand the news section to cover national or world news, especially in politics. He said that it wasn’t worth the effort, because we could never do a better job than an outlet like the New York Times. While that is true, I think the last few months have made it clear that the New York Times, the Washington Post, Vox, NPR and any other major news outlet you could care to name aren’t strong enough voices anymore. Lots of people distrust major news outlets, and whether that is justified or not, they are more likely to trust a more local source. Repetition is not a fault; repetition is unity; it is solidarity. Talking about the topics that those major news outlets report on does not render us redundant — rather, it makes these messages that much louder.

My point is this: If any of you are feeling paralyzed like I am — if you are feeling like there’s no point beating a drum that has been beaten a hundred or a thousand times before by others more eloquent or more far-reaching than you, you are wrong. While your vote and your money are indeed valuable, the words you write or speak about what’s going on in the world are too, even if someone else is saying essentially the same thing. Even if it’s the hundredth time you’re saying essentially the same thing, because they are your words and they are coming from your brain 

In all likelihood, the death of Justice Ginsburg means a court stacked even more in favor of intolerance than it already is. There’s a good chance that, even if he loses the November election, President Donald Trump will declare victory and blame nonexistent fraud and there will be violence in the streets. And the brunt of that violence will fall upon the already marginalized. You don’t have to be ready to go out and fight. But you don’t have to feel paralyzed by fear either. Find whatever outlet you can find and are comfortable with, whether that’s at your dinner table at home, in a local paper, on a YouTube channel, or even just your social media — as long as it is an outlet through which you can connect to a community that isn’t too anonymous. Share your take on the week’s news on it, however articulate it may be, however like someone else’s it may be. The fact that you are sharing it makes it valuable, and it will help break your paralysis.

And I will make this pledge right here, right now, that I will break my own paralysis and I will come up here every week and bang the same drum until something changes. I’m sure I’ll find no shortage of reasons to do so.