Something is better than nothing? Discuss

Spent a couple of precious and lovely hours with a dear friend, a former and future activist for whom I have enormous love and respect. They are – I think – of the opinion that “at least the activists are doing something, at least they are not sheep.”
I think I disagree.
Because the activists are half-arsed. They want the moral kudos of being aware and concerned and “active” – even if it’s in a chronically ineffective, self-indulgent and self-promoting way. “Remember the war against Franco, that’s the kind where each of us belongs – He may have won all the battles, but we had all the good songs.” (Tom Lehrer, The Folk Song Army)

Look, after World War Two, the mass of Germans had two excuses open to them.
One was the excuse from ignorance; “we didn’t know.” And that’s not unfair. If you chose not to look, if you chose not to know, then you could be ignorant. The Wannsee Conference was an invite-only affair, after all. Please note, I’m not a Holocaust denier (for fuck’s sake, it happened. The culmination of hundreds and hundreds of years of anti-Semitism, it happened. It happened to mentally handicapped, gypsies, trade unionists, communists, homosexuals etc. And it really really happened to the Jews). Nor am I excusing the German people of that time. But the excuse from ignorance is one of the excuses – of variable power and utility – that was used after the war.
Activists, knowing what they know, by (self)-definition can’t claim ignorance.

The other excuse – another one that is not open to the (my kind of) activists – is the excuse from fear. From 1933 (earlier for some) to 1945 you could say “Yes, I knew what was happening was wrong. But I was afraid that my name, and the names of my family members, would be next on the Nazi deathlist.” This, of course, was an extremely plausible and understandable fear. Any rational person would have felt that fear. I reckon I would have been a complete coward and done nowt.
But, crucially, for white middle-class activists in the West, we are not (yet) at that stage. Yes, the State can get extremely unpleasant. You can lose your job, your house, your mental health. You can be sexually exploited. You can be demonised by their tame goons at the Daily Hate Mail. Foul and unpleasant things might happen to you. But you won’t (yet) end up on the one-way helicopter trip. And so the excuse of fear is not, imho, applicable.

And giving up? Giving into the hopelessness of it? Not a moral category. Sorry. Totally understandable; I have sympathy and compassion and I strongly expect to go there myself and perhaps not come out the other side. But if I do go there, and don’t come out the other side, I swear that I will not pretend that I’ve taken a moral decision. It will be an immoral one.

About dwighttowers

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1 Response to Something is better than nothing? Discuss

  1. Antonio Dias says:

    Welcome to the land of double binds. Damned if you do, damned if you don’t.

    Hopelessness is a choice. It is a decision to surrender. It is not the same thing as letting go of the expectation of hope.

    All this still smacks of holding one’s emotional state as more important than being effective. Feeling bad, feeling guilty, is no more effective at changing an intolerable situation than holding onto ignorance or being paralyzed by fear. It still claims that something, somebody, is responsible for how I feel – even when it is taken on that it is “me who is doing it.” – and that how “I” feel is the issue.

    “Doing something” is less effective than doing nothing. Doing something is surrendering to futility and insisting that making myself feel good/or bad by this activity is more important than finding another way. The beauty and horror of mirroring and projection is that by assigning ourselves the role of opposing whatever it is we “hate” we are giving that thing greater power and feeding its power as we remove our attention from any possibility of finding some other way. This hate is itself Ego fodder, the Ego maintaining our focus on itself, on its likes and dislikes.

    “Something” is by definition not the right thing. “Something,” and that sense of morality that is used to prop it up, is an abstraction. Run down the list of what “something” might mean and get hit again and again by the futility of those “choices.”

    To insist that “Something is better than nothing” is to insist that the wrong thing is better than being frustrated. That sort of bleeds the moral aura out of it!

    You are hurting. You are running into the limits of what optimism and pessimism and hope and hopelessness have to offer and it’s all thin gruel. Pushing against it harder and harder – you’re young, and strong, you can do it, you might think – won’t get you past it.

    Double binds don’t get solved or decided. We either break upon them or we let them go. The key is to get past that illusion that something is better than nothing and that letting go is surrender. That is completely upside down.

    Let me spell that out.

    “Something is better than nothing” is surrender.

    Letting go, connecting with life, and finding that which arises, finding that which is born within us, is only achievable if we recognize that we need to stop chasing “somethings” and spend time within that which is taken as “nothing” when seen from the common perspective.

    No thing is not nullity. It is a declaration that all the false choices are disengaged and that we are open to what is and not blinded by what we want, what our Egos want.

    Guilt, whether for not doing something, or even for being “Egotistic,” is just another ploy of the Ego. It would much prefer we be paralyzed in despair, even that we suicide, than that we should let it go. It will do all it can to confuse us into thinking that its dissolution is worse than our own death. It will do all we allow it, fill our days with “somethings,” just to keep us worn down enough to stay enthralled.

    Compasssion begins with forgiveness, and that begins with forgiving ourselves. At that point Ego shrinks away and double binds can dissolve.

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