Saturday, April 5, 2008

Reflections on a Galaxy and on the Stardust That We're Made Of



These are Hubble Telescope images. The first is of the Crab Nebula and the second a Small Magellanic Cloud. When I first saw photos like this of the universe I thought that these images were doctored by artists with the colors filled in as they were so beautiful and awe-inspiring. I didn't care if they were faked. They were incredible. These color photos just didn't conform to what I could see in the night sky with my naked eyes, as spectacular as that is in mere black and white: I shall never forget the jeweled night splashed above me when we camped out in Maui's Haleakala Crater.

I later learned that these images are actually what these galaxies look like with special equipment, able to capture the faint light and energy traveling to us from millions of light years away, allowing the colors to come through.

How do they do it? What we can see with our naked eyes constitutes but a tiny fraction of what is actually there. We need specialized lens, time lapse, and dedicated devices to convey the fullness of the majestic and mind-boggling denizens of the sky.

So, too, to grasp the nature of politics in our lives we need special (analytical) tools to see beyond what is apparent at first blush or even from repeated observations.

Studying history is part of this. History is akin to the longer time exposures of stars that allow the colors to come through: seeing how political affairs have been contested and shaped by others before us.

I am constantly reminded when people say that voting for the "lesser evil" is necessary to prevent the "greater evil" of all of the other times in other election cycles that people said the very same thing.

Voting for LBJ was a vote to prevent the much greater evil of Barry Goldwater. Voting for Clinton was a vote against George H.W. Bush. Gore was a vote against George W Bush. Kerry was a vote against W. "This is the most important election of our lifetime." They said that about 2000 and then about 2004 and now we're hearing it about 2008. We're supposed to think that voting for Obama will keep away Clinton and McCain who are supposedly so much worse.

How can you have the most important election of our lifetime happen over and over again?

Are the Republicans worse than the Democrats? Certainly one can point to specific things and say that they are worse. But what did it get us all of these years to vote for the lesser evil? Did it keep us out of Vietnam? Did it keep welfare from being destroyed? Did it halt or even slow down globalization?

What did voting for the one you really wanted do - Eugene McCarthy or George McGovern or Dennis Kucinich or Ralph Nader?

The GOP stole the elections when they lost in 2000 and 2004 and in 2006 the country voted so overwhelmingly against the GOP that overturning these results would have been too blatant and the Democrats got back the majority in Congress. Look what good that's done!

Like the one you've lusted for for years who never really wants to do it with you, Rep. John Conyers keeps saying that he'll impeach - if A happens. Then A happens and he says B has to happen. Then C has to happen. Ad nauseum.

What studying history tells you is that what has made a difference is mass movements.

The mass independent actions of the people matter. Voting, as someone once put it, would be make illegal if it made a real difference.

And further, history tells us that mass movements don't just materialize out of nothing. They always start small and they start with the actions of individuals who dare to break the ice and have decided that they have had enough. Come hell or high water, they decided that they had to do something.

The actions of these individuals, even very, very ordinary individuals, create the conditions that draw others forward. In times such as these where tyranny is staring us full in the face and a police state is being developed as we speak, the actions of even very ordinary people take on extraordinary significance.

We are now seeing some of these things happen.

Witness the Catholic Schoolgirls Against the War. Or the Berkeley High School students demonstrating against the military recruiters. Or Portland High School students doing likewise. Or the Iraq War Veterans declaring that this war is a crime against humanity. Or the 80 year old church deacon in a wheelchair refusing to turn inside out his anti-war t-shirt at the mall.

Ordinary people's actions in times such as this make regular people extraordinary.

An addendum:

Those of you who've read some of my previous writings or heard me speak know that I've addressed at some length the importance of models among the people - religious leaders, actors, artists, authors, lawyers, teachers, doctors, and so on - stepping forward to lead the way to constitute a competing, legitimate, moral authority to the existing immoral leadership. This is still true. These people need to step forward in a much bigger, bolder way and call on others to follow their example. But as I've said above, I've come to emphasize even more than before that regular people who step forward can become the kind of leaders - on a small or large level - that are needed as well. By the very act of stepping forward they are making themselves into that leadership. When people say "I'm just one person, what can I do" they need to realize just how much they can in fact do as one person. We are, after all, made of the stuff of stars - literally.

1 comment:

jason said...

Here's a documentary called The Tank Man, where one ordinary man changed the course of history for his country: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SB70mWXrzEE