What the H is Going On?
Does anyone else get the feeling that we are all living on Htrae (Earth spelled backwards), the comic book “Bizarro World” where everything is “weirdly inverted or opposite to expectations” (Wikipedia)? A short list will suffice to make the point: rioters hijack protests, burning, looting and destroying property while local leaders do nothing and reject outside help; mayors and governors denounce and seek to defund their own police forces while crime runs rampant and the quality of life in their communities decays; Congress holds a much-anticipated hearing at which the Attorney General is to testify, and then denies him the opportunity to answer their questions (or even get a five minute break). Bizarro would feel right at home.
The universality of this upside-down, inside-out, right-is-wrong, wrong-is-acceptable environment could lead one to believe that there is some organizing force trying to undermine our institutions, our values, our way of life. But that would be too much, even for the most die-hard conspiratorialists among us. So, what is going on?
I am reminded of a story. A man (could also be a woman) was beset by difficulties and worries and struggling mightily just to live a good and decent life. One day he met a person on the street who he came to realize was the devil incarnate, literally. The devil smiled at him in a gloating way and said, “You realize, don’t you, that I am the source of all your troubles, and that you don’t have a hope of defeating me, for I am the prince of this world.” The man replied “I know who you are, and that you lie and manipulate and sow fear and confusion and anger and envy and hatred and hopelessness in the hearts of men and women in your quest to drain the world of all that is good and decent and loving. And I know that I am no match for you and your nefarious power. But I also know that what you’ve just said is also a lie, for I do have hope.”
“I know that I am not alone in my fight against you. I have the power to call upon the souls and saints in heaven and even God himself at any time for assistance. You know full well that you can never prevail in the end against that combination, whatever harm you manage to accomplish in the process. Faith, hope and prayer are my superpowers, and they are more than a match for yours.”
“As you know, I merely have to ask for help, and it will be given. Perhaps not in the manner or time I expect, but that promise is rock solid. So do your best, or worst, and I will continue to struggle to be who I am meant to be and to do what I believe to be right. And in the end, if I am true to that path, I hope one day to be in a place where you are not. So please move out of the way. I have more struggling to do today.”
It is highly unfashionable these days to speak of good and evil, but both are real, and their interaction is warp and woof of the human condition. They also manifest themselves in many ways and degrees. Sometimes evil is so blatant that it cannot be ignored or misunderstood for what it is. An example would be mass genocide. But mostly evil is subtle, insidious, hidden behind a smile or claims of good intentions. Evil thrives on lies and the human proclivity to be self-centered, self-loving, self-seeking, self-promoting, self-aggrandizing. It is most at home in human pride and its goal is power – the ability to bend events and people to its will. As John Dalberg, 1st Baron Acton, famously said “Power tends to corrupt and absolute power corrupts absolutely.”
To my mind, much of what we are experiencing these days derives from the struggle for power by people and organizations looking to undermine, subvert, tear down, oppose and deny the current social order. What they would replace it with is unclear, though history is littered with examples of failed social experimentation.
I would propose that the challenge is greatest, and the fight is fiercest, here in the United States precisely because of the historic nature of our government. Our Great Experiment differed from others – and has been surprisingly successful – because it is based on the concept of personal autonomy, liberty and the primacy of We the People over the government we hire to serve us. People, groups, movements, governments seeking power (the ability to bend events and other people to their will) absolutely hate this autonomy and seek to overcome it at every turn. Their tools include undermining respect for and adherence to the rule of law, promoting anarchy, delegitimizing religion and cultural institutions supportive of the concept of free will, promoting the false promise of rights uncoupled from responsibility, lying, cheating, stealing, intimidating, manipulating, denouncing, defaming anyone and destroying anything that stands in their way. We are in the midst of a Great Fight; not necessarily one between good and evil, though I believe that is a part of it, but a fight to preserve our personal liberties and way of life against those, organized or not, who would take them from us.
This fight must be fought, and it will require cooperation and coordination at least equal to that which is aligned against us. In the 18th century Edmund Burke warned that “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good [people] to do nothing.” That’s the short version of what he wrote. He continued, “No man, who is not inflamed by vain-glory into enthusiasm, can flatter himself that his single, unsupported, desultory, unsystematic endeavours, are of power to defeat the subtle designs and united cabals of ambitious citizens. When bad men combine, the good must associate; else they will fall, one by one, an unpitied sacrifice in a contemptible struggle.”
One of the most diabolical aspects of our current fight is the warping and upending of our cherished right of free speech and open expression. Social pressure and a dishonest media are stifling honest debate on topics of vital importance. Many people nowadays don’t bother to express their opinions, even when asked. They simply don’t want to fight the narrative seeking to be imposed upon them. But those voices must be heard; more people need to get constructively engaged in the fight to save what is best about our country. If we do not, then we disrespect the memories of all those who previously fought the good fight for our benefit.
In the meantime, or perhaps always, we each have the ability to exercise our own personal superpowers. No, we cannot fly or leap tall buildings in a single bound, but we can stay hopeful and pray for the future of our great country. Pray in particular that the unseen hand of good can turn the hearts deceived by evil, and that we can return, soon, to a sense of community, civility and respect that can be the legacy we leave to future generations.