Let me start by saying that I don't really know anything about quicksand. I am not even sure that it exists, although I remember being assured by childhood friends that it did. But I have seen movies, and from them I learned a great deal about quicksand as Hollywood imagined it. So it is movie quicksand that I am going to write about here.
In the movies, quicksand is a dangerous morass that sucks down the unsuspecting people who step into it. And in the movies, the worst thing you can do if you fall into quicksand is struggle. The more you struggle, the faster it sucks you down. The best thing you can do is to stay clam and try to lie flat until someone can throw you a rope or extend a branch you can grasp hold of.
However much or little those old movies describe real world quicksand (if real world quicksand exists), I think they perfectly describe America today.
We are sunk to our necks in quicksand, and the harder we fight to get out, the deeper we sink. We are angry and frustrated, so we lash out, and with every blow we sink a little farther. We are confused, so we flounder violently, and sink a little deeper.
Or maybe it is better to imagine two of us, side by side, united in hatred. Each wants to strike the other, to drive the other down. But every blow only causes the one who strikes it to sink just as much as the one struck. Enraged, we lash out again and again, and sink deeper and deeper. Seeing ourselves sinking, the only thing we can imagine is to fight harder. This is our chant now: fight, fight, fight.
I hear, sink, sink, sink.
People think they are fighting to save American, or to make it a better place. But the harder they fight, the deeper we sink. They are only floundering in the quicksand.
Did the people who rioted for justice, who burned police stations and smashed windows, win anything through their violence? They did not. Everywhere reining in the police was on the ballot, it lost, and it lost partly because people were frightened by the rioters. By turning to violence, they only sank their own cause.
Did the people who rioted to block Biden's inauguration succeed? They did not. They only shamed themselves. They said they were fighting for America, for democracy, but they only sank America deeper into the quicksand, and democracy with it.
Fighting will not help us; violence will avail us nothing. And I do not mean only the violence of smashing and burning. I mean violence of thought and violence of word. So long as we hate each other and try to destroy each other, we will save nothing and make nothing better. We may succeed in driving out enemies deeper into the quicksand, even drowning them. But if we do, we will also drown ourselves.
I hear someone objecting, but we have to do something! And to that I say, sometimes there is nothing useful that you can do. Human history is full of crimes and follies committed because somebody felt something had to be done. But if there is something to be done, hate will not help. Canceling each other, silencing each other, banning each other's books will in the end amount to nothing.
In a democracy, the thing that matters most is the opinion of the average voter. This makes radicals crazy, but it is simple arithmetic. Everything you do that alienates the average person is a loss for your cause. Purity of purpose is no help to you; fanatical devotion to your own truth will only hurt you. The way to fight better is to fight less. It is the side that seems most reasonable that wins, not the one that shouts the loudest.
Sometimes, what you have to do is stay silent about much of what you want and much of what you believe in order to get what is achievable. Lie flat, stay calm, take the rope that is extended to you. Stop thrashing. Stop trying to strike your enemy with violence when that only sinks both of you deeper.
Living with people you hate is better than waging a battle that only sinks everyone into the quicksand.