Barn's burnt down
I can see the Moon.
~ Mizuta Masahide

Saturday, December 3, 2016

The Inelegance of Grief and Vulnerability in the Seismic Age of Trumpence

 New Yorker Cartoon, Dec. 2, 2016

How is a person to act when the first rumblings of seismic shift begins and s/he realizes s/he is standing on shifting sand rather than bedrock?

Having lived in California or Washington for nearly thirty years of my life, I have experienced many earthquakes, most so small that I barely took a pause ("Meh, that's like a 3.0 and I've GOT to get this laundry done"). A few - the Loma Prieta and the Northridge quakes, in particular - were doozies ("Oh, Sweet Lord, is this the day and place where I die?"). 

My one comfort during those bigger - dare I say, "bigly" - earthquakes was that at least I was on solid, if rocking ground. If I made it to a strong doorway or under a solid desk that could withstand the weight of falling debris, I knew I would be okay.

But for folks whose homes and work and and schools and lives were built on landfill (the approximation of equity in property development and urban design) they found out quickly, brutally, and totally just how illusive the security for which they paid dearly truly was.

 25th Anniversary of the Loma Prieta Earthquake

These days, I've been thinking a lot about earthquakes, given the preponderance of seismic imagery in analyses of the Trump Electoral College victory. And I can't think of a more apt metaphor for the pace and scale of the threats, and the importance of situatedness in determining one's perception and vulnerability to those threats.

I am reminded of this video by Brent Kooi, who was a missionary in Chiba City, Japan, a few hours away from Fukushima when the earthquake struck.

Elsewhere, Mr. Kooi has stated that he was able to stay calm in the crisis because he did not know the scope of the damage further north. What I find striking, however, is not his calm but rather the reactions of some of the others in the video: both the dog and the Japanese citizens at 0:40. While Mr. Kooi admits to feeling disoriented as he continues to meander towards the train station, while recording the liquefaction of the park, the people at 0:40 waste no time leaving and the dog sounds like s/he is having none of it. It's not until 2:26, after noting the rapid expansion of the fissures, the sprouting of lakes where there was once lawn, that Mr. Kooi admits to feeling "a little nervous" because, oh yeah, the park is built on landfill.

It's personally hard to reflect on the seismic nature of the coming age of Trumpence and not react like the people at 0:40 or holler like the dog. Over the last few years, I've noted regional insurgencies and wretched Supreme Court decisions that have made it very clear that core human and civil rights, necessary for a successful free and fair democracy, are not bedrock rights for anyone who isn't straight, white, wealthy, or evangelically Christian. And now, the candidate who campaigned peddling contempt, ridicule and hatred for The Other, is queuing up a Cabinet full of hateful True Believers determined to enshrine their white supremacist, heteronormative, Inquisition-style Christianity into every chamber of government and into the highest law of the land for at least a generation.

How am I to act when the first rumblings of seismic shift begin and I realize I am standing on shifting sand rather than bedrock?

I know there are many who believe that the best way to react is to follow Mr. Kooi's example: stay calm in the crisis; make note of the changing landscape; look to the reactions of others as guidance for how best and when to react; don't panic; and don't disturb others with your nervousness. 

That's a lot to ask these days when the fissures of injustice are undulating and threatening an era of constitutional and humanitarian liquefaction.

Not only does it ignore the messiness of grief and legitimate fear. It fails to create space for the very productivity that it requires. How does a vulnerable person create a plan to alleviate that vulnerability without engaging those who may be inconvenienced but who purport to "empathize"? That's not a rhetorical question. That's my dilemma. If I follow the example of the dog and loudly announce my concerns, I am histrionic in my personal life and unprofessional at work. If I follow the example of the people at 0:40, I am uncommitted. 

I and others more immediately vulnerable (e.g. Muslims, Hispanics and sexual minorities) are now profoundly inconvenienced by the need to create exit strategies that may pull us away from homes we love, communities we enjoy, and work that inspires us.

And resolving those two inconveniences -- the one for those adapting to the liquefaction of their human and civil rights; the other for those on higher, more stable ground who want to help but also need the vulnerable to function as if they too are on stable, unchanged ground -- is a conundrum that many communities and workplaces will need to resolve.

Survival strategies for vulnerable people in the Age of Trumpence are not something that can be gradually evolved in wonderment at the rapidly changing terrain. And their genuinely empathetic but inconvenienced neighbors and colleagues who are less vulnerable to Trumpence priorities have a right to try to maneuver through the transformation with calm. 

I wish I had the answer. I suspect it begins with authentic heart-to-hearts between the vulnerable and the inconvenienced, focused on discerning mutually beneficial pathways towards continuity where possible, and towards escape where necessary. But those heart-to-hearts must be predicated on a shared understanding that while there are always tremors with change, seismic tremors (like the rise of a President openly allied with white nationalists) are different. And the discovery that some principles once believed to be bedrock are in fact landfill in the early stages of liquefaction is a living nightmare.

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