As some may know, The Day of the Dead in Mexico is actually two days, November 1 and 2, the first being the day of the return of the souls of dead children, and the second the day of the return of the souls of dead adults. How fitting (if tragic) then, that, on this election day, if predictions hold, we are about to see the return of the souls of dead ideas we had hoped never to see again.
The tsunami of political zeal approaching our shores, about to crash with destructive force against our homes and communities, our schools and clinics, our poor neighborhoods and last refuges of hope for those who we have already left with too little cause for hope, is not a defense of liberty, or of fiscal responsibility, or of the ideals of the American Revolution, but rather a return to an era of Robber Barons, of disregard for the injustices of poverty and inequality of opportunity, and disdain rather than compassion for those who are unfortunate enough to be born into disadvantaged socio-economic conditions.
It is a tsunami of anti-intellectualism, simultaneously declaring itself rational and those who oppose it irrational, while both carefully cleansing itself of any trace of reason and assertively pronouncing its disdain for the fruits of systematically applied reason. It is the dark side of populism, the angry torch-bearing mob looking for monsters to kill, accusing our president of every possible membership in groups that they consider evil: He is a Muslim, a non-American born abroad, a socialist, sometimes the anti-christ itself. It is the dark past of unreasoning and hateful bigotries rearing its ugly head once again, condemning all “others,” be they Muslims, gays, Hispanics, or simply all those who do not belong to the same unreasoning, hateful mob as they do.
I’ve engaged them in the blogosphere, on Facebook, in person and in email exchanges, and while there are some more moderate people who identify with the movement, overwhelmingly those who are its most vocal spokespeople and who set its agenda reject the notion of discourse, of engaging in a process which leads to subtler and richer and more useful understandings, of accepting that none of us have the final answers, that all of us must continue to seek out ever closer approximations of the truth. They call reason irrational and compassion hateful. They turn the world on its head, and will turn our world on its head in very destructive ways to the extent that we sit back and let them take control of the reins of government.
All reasonable people of goodwill, for generations now, have sighed in relief that the horrible ghosts of Social Darwinism and all similar rationalizations by those who are fortunate enough to live reasonably comfortable lives, justifying to themselves why they not only don’t have to care about those who are not, but should actively blame them for trying to take what is theirs (see, for example, Uncle Fish’s comments on various diaries on this blog).
Another pagan precursor of Halloween is the Celtic holiday Samhain (pronounced “Sowen”), in which, due to the Celtic lunar calendar, there were five days of the Celtic New Year left over every year, falling at the end of our October (the Catholic Church moved All Saints Day and All Hallow’s Eve to coincide with it, as it later moved the Aztec Day of the Dead to coincide with it) in which the boundary between the realm of the living and the realm of the dead was at its thinnest and most permeable. People dressed and put on make-up to make themselves look as unhealthy and unappealing as possible, to discourage dead spirits seeking new bodies in which to reside to choose theirs.
But as the dead spirits of horrible and hateful ideas now are roaming among us on this day, seeking to occupy our body politic, our halls of government, our institutions of cooperation and collective problem solving, determined to undermine them in their purpose, to deprive us of our instruments of national community and aspiration, to surrender to the problems and challenges that history imposes on us, we do not need to make ourselves look ugly, but rather beautiful, to oppose and defeat them. For Hope is beautiful. Compassion is beautiful. Commitment to the welfare of the least well off is beautiful. Humility and Awe in the face of God’s Creation are beautiful, and should inspire not the false certainties and militant ignorance of the Tea Party, but rather the seeking, hungry minds of those who know that they don’t know, but want to work together with all others to do the best they can to get it right.
If at all possible, drop whatever else you are doing today, and spend the next several hours making sure that every sane and decent human being you know takes their ballot to the nearest polling place, and registers their voice, their will, and their soul in favor of hopeful living ideas, and against the self-limiting and self-destructive ones of a poorer and less hopeful past that should remain dead forever more.