Wednesday, February 2, 2022

America in the Quicksand

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 calm 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.


G. Verloren said...

I really wish you wouldn't carry on with the false equivalency of race riots directly sparked by police brutality and systemic racial injustice, with the delusional insanity of the right wing imagining themselves to be victims of anything other than their own idiocy and detachment from reality.

It's ignorant at best, flagrantly disingenuous at worst, and it has been pointed out to you as a fallacy numerous times previously.


Aside from that, this comes across as typical Centrist "The status quo is fine, actually" rhetoric, which I'm sorry to say reads as sadly out-of-touch.

Struggling indeed often make things harder... for white, Christian, heterosexual, middle class, suburban Baby Boomers. Such individuals have a great deal to lose, and relatively little to gain, by taking action. They are able to champion inaction because it's honestly the best option... for them personally, living in their privileged position.

But for those many millions of unfortunate souls who are not so privileged? Taking action can often actually be the better option - they already have so little to lose, but so very much to gain by upsetting the status quo. When your life is already so full of misery, hardship, and injustice that you can't stand it, inaction gains you nothing except condemning yourself to suffer - and worse, condemning future generations to share your fate as the unjust status quo is left to be perpetuated.


Go take a trip into an inner city ghetto and talk to the locals about your "quicksand" analogy, then tell me how they respond.

Go visit a center for victims of domestic violence, and see how receptive the survivors are to your admonishment that people not take drastic actions for change.

Go to your local diner and chat with a single mother working her third part-time job as a waitress, and tell her that it's fine, actually, that her employers are legally allowed to pay her less than minimum wage and that her ability to keep her children fed and housed depends on the whims of customers tipping (or not).

Go interview people with diabetes who are forced by legal pharmaceutical monopoly practices to pay $1000+ a month for life saving insulin, when the actual overhead cost of the drug is under $10 per month.

Go attend the funeral of yet another black youth murdered by racist police without consequences, and explain to the grieving family that sometimes you just have to stay silent, and that if only they "seemed more reasonable" they'd win more often.

And then go talk to "the average voter", who doesn't give a damn about any of those people or their problems, and who consequently can't be bothered to vote for measures that would help them - thus perpetuating the status quo of suffering, because the slim majority refuses to vote for deeply needed change. Democracy in action!


"Fighting will not help us?" "Violence will avail us nothing?" I cannot help but feel those are the words of a man comfortable with the status quo in his own little corner of the world, unconcerned with the fates of others; the words of a man who would cede the Sudetenland because fighting over it wouldn't benefit him personally, and thus he cannot imagine that it could possibly benefit anyone else either.

It may be hard for you to understand, never having known the peril of it yourself, but the fact nevertheless remains - you cannot reason with a tiger when your head is in its mouth. Others are not fools for fighting when fangs are on their necks, and you are not wise for advising inaction because you are too blind to spot the predator, or because you personally are lucky enough to be left alone by it.

Instead of learning your lessons from Hollywood, I suggest you open your eyes to reality - specifically, the daily realities of your fellow Americans who do not share the same remarkable position of privilege that you enjoy. Perhaps then you'll realize how absurd, patronizing, and ignorant your advice sounds to them.

RGH said...


You're presenting something of a strawman argument yourself. The original post said violence was not the solution. He talked about the BLM rioters burning down buildings. If you're going to say that the only way to fight is violently, then you need to support that position properly, which you have not.

From Gandhi onward, non-violent protests have pretty much been the fastest way forward. Who succeeded more MLK's non-violent marches, or the violent riots at the same time (which as I recollect MLK decried?)?

Protesting the inequities you mention is perfectly reasonable (both the poor white folk who believed Donald Trump, as well as the BLM protestors). What DOES draw us into the quicksand is violence and complete rejection of compromise.

szopen said...

Based on what he is writing here I have an impression Verloren is quite OK with the violence, as long as it is violence aimed at "bad" people and towards implementing changes he deems good. He is that kind of man.