OP-ED: Tragedy is Not Our Business
Standing Up to the Despair Industry
By Stefan Jones, WashCo Dems Communications Committee
The atmosphere of the political side of social media is unbelievably depressing today. Die-hard supporters of various candidates viciously attacking each other, gloom-and-doom commentators weighing in on every desperate move by our shaky and paranoid president, and the general assumption that this is the end of everything.
To which I say: Get a GRIP!
If there is an overarching goal to Russian interference, it isn’t hacked voting machines or even the success of a particular candidate. It is hopelessness, fear, despair and doubt–for the election in the short term, and democracy in the long run. As Jessica Brandt, head of policy and research for the Alliance for Securing Democracy, put it in a recent WIRED article:
“All of this is part of Russia’s much broader effort to cast democracies as feckless, ineffective, and corrupt. In other words, to dent democracy’s appeal.”
Another term for this is FUD . . . “fear, uncertainty, and doubt,” the tools used by public relations firms hired by corporations to avoid regulation. It worked, for decades, for tobacco companies. It has worked, so far, for fossil fuel companies trying to cast doubt on climate change.
How do we counter this? By championing the truth. By speaking out. By sticking with our ideals and championing our shared values. By strengthening the democratic process through participating in it, and encouraging others to. By respecting others’ beliefs — including their choice of candidates — and above all by not giving in to the despair, doubt, and uncertainty.
Do not give the enemies of democracy and progress the gift of your fear and cynicism.
I am reminded of an essay by the physicist Freeman Dyson, published in his book on his experiences working in arms control, “Weapons and Hope“. The piece finishes:
“The main thing I am trying to say in this book is that . . . Tragedy is not our business. Too much preoccupation with tragedy is bad for our mental health. Tragedy is a real and important part of the human condition, but it is not the whole of it. Some people try to make a tragedy out of every aspect of modern life. In the end their mental state comes to resemble the attitude of another famous character of modern fiction:
‘Eeyore, the old grey Donkey, stood by the side of the stream, and looked at himself in the water.
“Pathetic,” he said, “That’s what it is. Pathetic.”
He turned around and walked slowly down the stream for twenty yards, splashed across it, and walked back on the other side. Then he looked at himself in the water again.
“As I thought,” he said. “No better from this side. But nobody minds. Nobody cares. Pathetic, that’s what it is.”‘
The Eeyore syndrome is somewhere deep in the heart of each one of us, ready to take over if we give it a chance. Anyone who has to deal with mentally sick people will be familiar with the voice of Eeyore. Those of us who consider ourselves sane often feel like that too. The best antidote that we have against the Eeyore syndrome is comedy, comedy in the new-fashioned sense, making fun of ourselves, and also comedy in the old-fashioned sense, the drama of people like Odysseus and Amundsen who survive by using their wits. Survival is our business, and in that business it is the heroes of comedy who have the most to teach us.”
This is a time for heroes, for people standing up and banding together to stare down the bullies, bigots, and kleptocrats.
This is a time for confidence, good humor, and high ideals . . . not a grim twilight struggle.
Keep your eyes on the prize: A new era of reform and democratic renewal that champions social progress and economic, racial, and environmental justice. Let us work together to deliver a landslide victory to Democratic candidates, here and across the country.
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