Thursday, January 10, 2008

Anarchy and Revolution

E.L. Doctorow's Welcome to Hard Times is a vivid portrait of the early days of our wild west, when lawmen were scarce and unbridled lawlessness had its way. A small town is ravaged, and in the end ravaged again. The evil is real as is the cowardice, fear and grief.

I mention the book because of the images it paints. Set in the Old West, it could easily be a snapshot of a village in Rwanda, or Paris during its reign of terror. When law and order break down, the grim result is frightening.

Yet there are some who bought this scenario as a dream. Tear down the system and something better will emerge in its place. How that "something better" emerges is unexplained. But what is clear is that no one wants to be caught up in the midst of this kind of horror. And the more we have at stake -- homes, families -- the more we realize how utterly devastating a cultural breakdown will be. Who wants to see a spouse or child get abused, raped or tortured, to see all of one's personal belongings trashed and burned?

For this reason most people accept the slow erosion of freedoms, the increased taxation, the higher cost of living. What are our alternatives? Gratitude is one of the first things on my lips, for the family I was born into and the security I felt growing up, for a country with so much freedom within a structure of law. I have not been losing sleep over an unsettling fear that our family is endangered by marauding bands of bad men. (As soon as I write this, however, I wonder whether this is the case for some people in other parts of our nation... such as sections of South Chicago or L.A. or Philadelphia.)

We have many problems in our country, but the solution is not a teardown. Riots in the streets will not get us what we want. The feeling of powerlessness is strong out there. Making ends meet is a challenge for many and it is difficult to understand the forces behind the economic pressures most people experience. Also there is that feeling that we can't make much of a difference as we see civility deteriorating around us.

But the truth is contrary. The call to revolution should be a call for revolution within. Eliminate your inner anarchy, and you will be better suited to impact the community, and larger world, around you.

We really aren't powerless. Our future is in our hands.

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