In spite of everything I still believe that people are really good at heart. I simply can’t build up my hopes on a foundation consisting of confusion, misery, and death. I see the world gradually being turned into a wilderness, I hear the ever approaching thunder, which will destroy us too, I can feel the sufferings of millions and yet, if I look up into the heavens, I think that it will all come right, that this cruelty too will end, and that peace and tranquility will return again.
– Anne Frank
I looked up Anne Frank’s famous quote today, as at this moment in my life and this moment in American history, I am having a difficult time believing that people are really good at heart. Like many others, I am spinning at the edges of an existential crisis. If there is no inherent goodness to human beings, should I really be rooting for survival of the species? At what point do we cross over into becoming the villain in the larger narrative of the planet?
And yes, I know, that wide a view can make people uncomfortable, and can make me sound like I’ll be retiring to a mountain cabin to scribble out my manifesto on cocktail napkins and staple it to pine board walls. So to be clear: no, I’m not suggesting in any way to hurry along our species’ removal from the top of the predator ladder. The philosophical view over centuries and millennia and eras is not the same approach as day-to-day life. In day-to-day, short-view life, I vote, I protest, I advocate nonviolence, and when I can face it, I argue for the tenets that I believe best serve equality and health. In my judgement, those arguments are seldom if ever fruitful, and more often now, I just sigh and walk away, preserving my own skin (Americans are, after all, so very well-armed), and to some extent, sanity. And then I feel bad about humanity, about the intransigence and illogic of things like, say, racism and party-loyalty over ethics, and my own cowardice in persevering in the battle for fairness. I am the embodiment of the guilt of the liberal elite. I know I should be doing more, but I feel helpless in the face of mobilized, enthusiastic fascism.
|Women's March, St. Petersburg, FL, Jan. 21, 2017|
Getting back to Frank’s quote, however, unlike me, she seems to find comfort in the long view. She knew that her personal survival was unlikely, as it was for millions of others during the Holocaust, that thundering systematized genocide would destroy them. But also, she believed that Good would rise again. From the ashes of human corpses, she believed that “peace and tranquility will return again.”
I am much less sure that a peaceful and tranquil world includes human beings. I agree that there is no way to build hope on “a foundation consisting of confusion, misery, and death,” and sadly, that’s what I see blossoming further under the Trump regime. To quote Yeats, “the worst / Are full of passionate intensity,” a fury of competitive, mercenary self-interest that fails to recognize the rights of others. And so I begin to think the cruelty that needs to end for tranquility to flourish is a cruelty inherent in human nature. As noted, I am not at my most optimistic, and life did not work out well for Anne Frank.
With or without us, the planet may well continue to support life, and if it does, sturdy cockroaches and perhaps a multitude of mammals, insects, reptiles and such will as well, and perhaps something newly miraculous will crawl out of the primordial soup next. Who can say? But I’m not so sure that in the long, long view, I don’t want human beings to go by the way of the dinosaur so as to give peace a chance. And I may spend some time thinking on that in a mountain cabin -- in Canada. Because on the level of day-to-day life, a country recently ranked as the most tolerant in the world with a prime minister that self-describes as a feminist and that has had publicly funded healthcare since 1984 sounds like the promised land, a place where hope in human nature could be restored.