This week, I saw a photograph of a river in Toronto running blood-red after an ink spill. My Twitter feed was awash with possible captions, each referring to the first of ten Biblical plagues inflicted upon the Egyptians in the Book of Exodus. The comments buzzed with connections to other contemporary events: the Australian brush fires representing the “hail and fire” of the seventh plague, and the demagogic Pharaoh in Egypt representing… well, a few people. The anxiety in the short, 280-character-or-less messages was palpable.
Of course, the Internet is a sensationalized place. But it’s difficult to not agree with it — after all, Twitter is one of the few places where ordinary people cease to be ordinary, where platforms are afforded if not at random, at least with less concern for income, experience and education than in the rest of the world. You don’t need to paste your CV. Just be funny, active and potent. Perhaps this is what makes the conversations there so rich and meaningful to me; as we make jokes, express our anxieties and share heartwarming stories of love in the time of Corona, there’s something gritty and real and beautiful in those expressions, like a photograph without touch-ups.
Indeed, there is a lot to be anxious about. It would be naive to ignore the rise of radical right-wing ideologies in the United States and across the world. After 40 years of neoliberalism and deregulated capitalism, income inequality has soared. Most Americans cannot afford a $400 emergency and the Feds just indicated that unemployment might hit 20 percent. The highest it reached during the Great Depression was 24.9 percent in 1933. All of this, and of course, COVID-19 herself. As every email I have received in the past two weeks has indicated, these are strange and uncertain times.
But perhaps things feel so bleak because of who we have as our champions of resistance: in the United States, a handful of governors, a weak opposition party with an absent presumptive presidential nominee and the heady myth of means-testing.
As a person on the left, I am no stranger to defeat. I have watched candidates I canvassed, phone-banked and voted for lose. I have worked on community projects that were not approved and organized around issues that were never solved. I have watched a regime uproot any opportunity my generation has at a stable economic, geopolitical and environmental future. At times, I make dark, moody jokes about the future. But usually, defeat makes me tired and sad, even angry. The long arc of history has thus far not favored the left, with the bitter melancholy slinking into our collective psyche like an old friend.
During these times, I reflect on the moments where I have wished to succumb to a different kind of morality so I wouldn’t need to feel so angry or sad or lost. It is so easy to feel defeated and so tempting to surrender. As we sit at home, festering, it’s hard for this not to feel like the end times.
Still, a text from a friend heaved me out of the rabbit hole. “We’re going to be there someday. Aren’t you glad history isn’t over??” Immediately, my mood brightened, my longing for the outside not merely a cry for fresh air but for the possibility that the world still represents.
But I think that our temptation to descend into despair should not be ignored. Wanting to quit when things get difficult is natural, even expected, and in this moment, it becomes difficult to envision a habitable future that does not require a great deal of difficulty.
Still, I caution my friends away from being dejected. It is easy to grow comfortable in defeat and find solace in the righteous anger of being the loser, again. There’s righteous anger in being the person with a good explanation for why it feels like the world is ending. There’s righteous anger in blocking people I don’t like on social media platforms, in making fun of yet another pundit, politician or pedant. There’s righteous anger in believing that our losses occur because of factors outside our control, that the world is simply too big and bad and broken for us to win.
I admit, I like that feeling of virtue. But self-indulgence does nothing to assuage the real concerns facing us at this moment. It does us no good to become dejected, to revel in our anguish.
Instead, I’ve found solace in thinking about tomorrow. Not today’s despair and not the day when we win, whatever that means, but in the moments between now and then, the victories that still deserve celebrating. I’ve found meaning in the things I can do: the community members I can advocate for, the meals I can serve and the groceries I can purchase.
The apocalypse is not upon us. The night before she was murdered in 1919, Marxist theorist Rosa Luxembourg wrote, “The whole road of socialism is paved with nothing but thunderous defeats.” But there is a victory in the struggle. So before the Christians retreat into Revelation, the Jews into Exodus and the communists into Das Kapital, I urge you — wherever you are — to acknowledge that history isn’t over. Then, more importantly, reflect on what you’re going to do about it.
MCKINSEY CROZIER is a sophomore in Timothy Dwight College. Her columns run on alternate Fridays. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org .