My longtime truckbuddy Frank raised some very pertinent questions in a comment box the other day, and it has taken your Head Trucker from then till now to find the inner oomph to answer them - though not particularly well, I'm afraid, for there are no truly satisfactory answers to the, being as they are merely subsets of the Problem of Evil, which has been endlessly discussed for several millennia now without a cheerful resolution, alas. But to give Frank what I owe him and get this off my chest, here are the Q and the A for all to see:
Frank: I have given up posting political news. I watch the news (but somewhat less than I used to) and read the news on the web. I feel my "anger" boiling up with each new artrocity and it is not healthy.
We have an "Indivisible" group here, but I have pretty much dropped out. I just have no patience for "meetings" and talk. I signed a bunch of petitions but wonder how much that makes a difference, especially as in return I get more petitions to sign...and ALL asking for money.
I've also been disappointed in the fact that organizations that I've supported with small donations seem to choose to use my few dollars to mail me newsletters and further solicitations.
It's not that I'm apathetic. Just tired and disgusted. I'm not sure what good "preaching to the choir" does, which is why I gave up facebook. I am waiting for this administration to implode, but it seems beyond teflon...perhaps kevlar is a more apt description of its indestructibility.
It is not only those in the government that irk me...the supporters of this evil so-called president are like spectators at the colosseum screaming for blood and gore every time they see or hear their "emperor" as he tosses them more meat. The worse he is, the more rotten the meat, the more they cheer.
I don't understand how such blind loyalty is even possible. Where did these people come from? Where were they educated? Did they never learn the important lessons in kindergarten? What perverted form of christianity do they follow? Too many questions.
I wonder what, if anything, will be the lesson that history will take from this era.
Russ: It was a busy weekend here with one thing and another; but more than that, I have pondered how to reply to the excellent questions you raise. Alas, the awful truth of aging is that one loses (bit by bit and day to day) one's strength not only of body but also of mind - and also loses the patience and equanimity to deal with frustrations calmly. And yet one knows only too well that ranting, raving, screaming, and shouting will do no one any good, while the universe rolls on quite oblivious. One is reminded of the Stephen Crane poem, which I here transcribe in its entirety:
A man said to the universe:
“Sir, I exist!”
“However,” replied the universe,
“The fact has not created in me
A sense of obligation.”
And if prayer is unavailing, one is left with pious hope as the last, dwindling comfort. But a consciousness of individual futility at least relives one from the burdensome fallacy that all the outcomes of the world depend on me. Whatever blame may be laid for society's woes and failures, it must be spread across many millions of other backs. No one person can save or break the system of things -- despite what you may have heard.
But even in the most circumscribed, insignificant life, one can choose to do right or do wrong, at least in some respects where one is not otherwise constrained. We humans are not mere animals or robots, though various fools from one extreme or another would have us so: we are, furthermore, not merely a reasoning but also a moral species. And even where age, illness, or circumstance prevent us from acting we can yet assent by voice or thought to what is right and good -- and thereby encourage our fellow singers in the "choir."
I too feel the futility of such preaching, Frank - but how much more ghastly would it be to live without ever hearing your own thoughts validated?
To answer some of your other questions, or attempt to: yes, we now can understand how the Romans were so fond of their Caesars, and the Germans so wild about their Nazis. Those moments of long-ago schoolboy amazement are now quite cleared up, no? For we have seen in our own time, with our own eyes how all that comes to pass.
But the very important point is that "these people" did not "come" from anywhere, Frank. They have been right here all along. Some of them, we are sad to admit, are our own blood kin, and former friends, and near neighbors. They are no strangers, no invaders or aliens, but quite ordinary Americans we are familiar with. Just look over the crowds at the Trump rallies - beyond the sign-waving, posturing people in silly hats, look at the thousands in the background just sitting there, smiling happily and clapping enthusiastically. They could just as easily be found, and no doubt are, at your local movie theater or football game or charity run. They have sat beside us in school and at work and eaten from the same dishes; they are us, only they have made a different choice somewhere along they line.
They are not outlandish aliens or horned-and-hoofed devils, or wild-eyed monsters - they are quite ordinary folks. And here I must refer you to Hannah Arendt's famous phrase about "the banality of evil."
It seems that scholars have debated what she meant by that, but what I mean is that evil is an inherent part of the human personality, always latent, always potential - as much so as goodness - and so one must be carefully taught to distinguish between the two motives, and keep choosing the latter. A difficult task of instruction, and a more difficult task of living! But not mysterious at all - you as a Catholic must recall that this has been the constant advice of the Doctors of the Church and other worthies for the last two millennia, so I need not plow all that ground again. Of course many if not most of "those people" have been instructed in moral choices since childhood, but not enough it would seem - or at least not enough to overcome baser instincts and selfish advantages.
Alas, people do choose evil sometimes out of rage or lust or fear or greed, and sometimes choose it carelessly by mistaking it for the good. And those two clauses pretty much sum up the entire history of the human race, the long, sad tragedy of Man. So again, there is no point in my taking time to rehearse such a well-known story of cause and effect, of progress and relapse, repeated ad infinitum.
The lesson? "We have here no abiding city . . . ." And we also know now that when our history books and civics texts used the puzzling phrase, "the American experiment," that it was not a mere rhetorical phrase, but a fearsome fact: democracy and constitutional government have always been subject to the weather and road conditions - they are not part of the unalterable form of the universe, just a flowering in a certain place at a certain time. Whether they continue long or vanish soon has always been tentative, a question that hangs in the balances. We see that clearly now, don't we?
Do what you can, Frank, not what you can't. That's all this tired old queen can say at this point, when "can" has shrunk to miniscule size. But even when we can no longer do, we can still hope, and with the encouragement of our friends, keep that alive in our hearts - mayhap it will bloom anew in a better place and time. That, at least, is something worthwhile.