Mischievous imps blowing invisible darts that stoke human passions and spin them out of control, moving twigs a few inches across the forest floor providing links in conflagrations that would not otherwise occur, plucking the strings of nature to produce crescendos of catastrophe. Zen-mathematician wizards dancing in their ice spheres high in the Vaznal Mountains, solving ever-deepening riddles of sound and sight and sensation, weaving order from the chaos the Loci imps foment. Winged muses carving sensuous stories from the clouds and celebrating the lives of those from whose dreams and tribulations they were born.
A fiery giantess is held captive in a hollow mountain. A sea serpent’s breath inspires the priestess of an island oracle poised above a chasm beneath which it sleeps. City-states are at war; slaves, led by a charismatic general, are in uprising; dictators and warlords are vying for power; neighboring kingdoms and empires are strategically courting local clients in pursuit of regional hegemony or outright conquest. Human avarice has strained the natural context on which it thrives. And ordinary people in extraordinary times, caught within the vortex of the powers that both surround and comprise them, navigate those turbulent currents.
Follow the adventures of Algonion Goodbow, the magical archer; Sarena of Ashra, the young girl at the center of this epic tale; their friends and mentors, guides and adversaries, as they thread the needle of great events, and discover truths even more profound than the myths of legend and lore. Discover the truth of fiction and the fiction of truth; celebrate the fantastic and sublime, in this magical tale laden with rich echoes of world history and world mythology, informed by blossoms of human consciousness from Chaos Theory to Thomas Kuhn’s theory of paradigm shifts, from Richard Dawkin’s Meme Theory to Eastern Mysticism, enriched by the author’s own travels and adventures.
A prophesied Disruption is upon the land of Calambria, causing the Earth to quake and societies to crumble. The Loci imps are its agents, but, according to Sadache mythology, it is Chaos, one of the two Parents of the Universe, who is its ultimate author. As Chaos eternally strives to make the One Many, Cosmos, the other Parent of the Universe, strives to make the Many One. The Sadache people view themselves as the children of Cosmos, whom they worship, and the lowest rung of a hierarchy of conscious beings opposing Chaos and the Loci imps. Above them, both of them and apart from them, are the drahmidi priests of the Cult of Cosmos, founded by the hero and conqueror Ogaro centuries before. Above the drahmidi are the Vaznallam wizards, Cosmos’s agents, just as the Loci are Chaos’s.
As the Great Disruption begins to manifest itself, Sarena of Ashra, a peasant girl from a village on the outskirts of the city-state of Boalus, flees an unwanted marriage to an arrogant lord and in search of freedom and destiny. She meets a young vagabond on the road, coming from the seat of the ceremonial High Kingdom, Ogaropol, fleeing his own pursuers. Together they form an alliance that leads through adventures together and apart, and binds them into two halves of a single whole.
Swirling around them are the wars of would be dictators and cult-leaders, of neighboring empires and kingdoms; the adventures of young Champions engaged in the prophesied Contest by which the Redeemer would be chosen and the Realignment realized. But, in both different and similar ways, the culmination of centuries of history flows through these two people, Algonion and Sarena, on haphazard quests of their own. And both the past and the future are forever changed by their discoveries and deeds.
Sarena watched a bird of golden light with silver wings circling overhead. In broad, sweeping curves it descended toward her until she recognized that the bird was in fact an Ilyarian woman, her perfect form accentuated by a thin veil of mist draped across her body. Alighting as lightly as a fallen feather, she gazed at Sarena through wide-set indigo eyes, windswept sky-blue hair framing the golden sun of her face.
Azhanli’s voice was musical, rich with harmonized tones, a symphony of speech. “Sarena of Ashra,” she chimed, curtsying with the grace of a dancer, delicately collapsing her body, arching her wings outward and upward. “Yours is the story I am sworn to bear, a song of she who shall come to share the fables we tell, where muses dwell, strolling among the colonnades and courtyards of our cathedral in the clouds!”
Before Sarena could react, Azhanli pivoted to stand beside her, swinging her arm around Sarena’s waist in a single swift motion and rising into the air on outstretched and powerful wings.
They passed through trailers of mist high above the earthly sphere, and into a thickening bank of fog, soaring through a gossamer sea, vapors streaking past like the weird wayside of some ethereal highway. Then they emerged into the sunlight once again, and beheld the glorious cloudscape of Ilyaria.
They glided effortlessly over a frothing carpet punctuated by random curls and ragged holes. Massive floating platforms with tapered turnip-root bases hovered at various heights above and below. Huge foamy crescents stood like frozen waves forever poised on the verge of breaking, wisps of spray suspended motionless beside them. Azure-haired and golden-skinned Ilyarians reclined in clusters on the platforms, gowns of spun mist refracting the white brilliance of Ilyaria in sparkles of bright color.
They came to a quiet place, where the laughter and music had faded to a distant whisper, and the fibrous sea stretched unbroken in all directions. Azhanli dove toward it, wings spread wide, leveling off at the last instant, skimming the surface, sweeping upward to a stall and setting down so gently that Sarena could not feel the moment of their landing. She knew that she was standing on her own only when she saw Azhanli an arm’s length away, no longer holding her aloft.
Together they strolled astride the airy earth toward a distant glint of light in the sky, which resolved itself into a rapidly approaching Ilyarian. “Azhanli!” he called, as he descended in a graceful arc to the ground. “Come to join me in a bit of gardening?”
Azhanli laughed almost inaudibly. “No, Zaliya, just to observe. There is time yet before the Chorus convenes. I thought our guest might enjoy watching you at work.”
Zaliya’s eyes sparkled approval. Then he glanced about, moving his hands as if taking the measure of the land, at first quite casually. But gradually his movements became more pronounced, taking on, not a formal air, but an intentional one. The gestures were graceful and fluid, progressing from the careless motions of one musing to himself to an elaborate dance, as though he were trying to extract something from the vapors around him. He became emersed in a kind of moving trance, with long, smooth sweeps of his arms, pivots upon one foot, arches and flutters of his wings.
Even as Zaliya began, the cloudscape began to change, subtly at first, then more noticeably. The white froth parted like morning mist in the heat of day, unveiling a carpet of moss beneath. Low hills rose in the distance, obscured by the thinning haze, slowly drawing closer, reaching higher, becoming more diverse. Rock formations appeared, varieties of shades and shapes and textures. A fog-filled basin cleared to reveal a cool blue pond, its placid surface steaming with the last wisps of evaporating mist.
Zaliya submerged himself in his art, making bolder, sharper, more violent gestures. His hands struck the air, his arms ripped at unseen fabrics. In his enthusiasm he drifted upward, hovering above the turf, conducting his symphony with hands and feet and wings flailing rapturously. His face, serene at the outset, now revealed inner-torments, conflicting emotions, unyoked and explosive passions. His chiseled features took on the fierceness of a warrior, the ecstacy of a lover, the fear of a man before the infinite. The calm mountain had become an erupting volcano, its lava hardening into a complex and beautiful landscape.
As Zaliya’s gestures grew sharper and more dramatic, so too did the changes he wrought. Small shrubs and bold branching trees grew around the banks of the pond, exploding from nothingness into being with startling suddenness. Strokes like the dabbing of brush on canvas, only in reverse, coaxed color from his canvas, invoking bright blossoms on a gently inclined flower bed: Out they popped and bloomed, as though too eager to wait nature’s course. He carved from the desolation an elaborate panorama, every twig and leaf carefully in place. Water lilies sprang from the surface of the pond; frogs and birds and squirrels began to make their presence known. Scents and sounds filled the air. The sun burned away the last of the mist, and the blank slate to which they had come was transformed into a joyful collage of living things.
Zaliya lowered himself onto the newly groomed earth, relaxing with a deep sigh, inviting his guests to join him with a silent gesture. Sarena strolled along the immaculate paths as the two Ilyarians accompanied her in low, looping flight, a tableau of exquisite treats for all the senses arrayed with an artist’s precision and flair. They picked plump berries from drooping clusters, and let the sweet juice caress them, inhaling the fragrant air, serenaded by the music of life.
At last, with a lackadaisical sweep of the arm, the vista evaporated as though it had never been. The trees and flowers shimmered and blurred, details growing indistinct, engulfed by a white haze emanating from the pores of the formerly bright-hued scene, until all again was uncarved mist and dull desolation. But now, the desolation no longer felt so desolate. Now, it seemed more a mirror of the mind waiting to reflect a glancing imagination. “Beautiful things are ephemeral,” Zaliya said in a voice rich with sentiment, “but their beauty itself can never be destroyed. The moment was, is, and forever will be.”
(For other excerpts from “A Conspiracy of Wizards,” see The Hollow Mountain, The Wizards’ Eye, “Flesh Around A Whim”. and Prelude to “A Conspiracy of Wizards”. Also see The History of the Writing of “A Conspiracy of Wizards” and About “A Conspiracy of Wizards”.
Most readers are aware that the title phenomenon is commonplace in human affairs, but, especially in the blogosphere, it is so pervasive, so ubiquitous, that the direct and constant encounter with it is overwhelming. On various blogs and comment boards, I have found that merely by relentlessly questioning people’s assumptions and conclusions, arguing on-topic and without ad hominems, I have consistently become a lightening rod for the most persistent, obsessive, and abusive vitriol imaginable. I regularly attract virtual stalkers and harassers, some of whom react with an almost Tourette-like reflexiveness to any scent of my existence.
On a prominent (and, in many ways, exceptionally good) Colorado political blog on which I participated for years, after such experiences repeated at an accelerating rate over that entire period of time, in an email exchange with the nominally anonymous owner of the blog, I felt as though I had stepped through the looking glass, for this individual (who, along with his real or imaginary partners, strives mightily to assume an aura of disembodied authority, using the first person plural in all self-references, habitually assuming a dismissive and disdainful tone), for he ascribed the vitriol to me, while blithely exonerating the stalkers, harassers, and frothers-at-the-mouth, implicitly agreeing with them that the publication of relentless intellectual arguments that cause discomfort in others is what is the true affront to human decency.
Don’t get me wrong: I do not claim, and have never claimed, that my personal defects and faults are not a part of this dynamic. Clearly, I could be more diplomatic, more solicitous of other people’s sensibilities, less “pompous” and “condescending” (some of the kinder descriptors of me favored by my detractors). I won’t try to determine to what extent these perceptions of my personality are an artifact of the broader dynamic I am describing, and to what extent they are truly my own, but I will admit that I believe that both components are implicated.
But our humanity is always a part of the equation, our imperfections and personality flaws always affecting our interactions. Why would extreme, explosive, obsessive expressions of rage or hatred be considered less vitriolic than the perceived pomposity and condescension of compelling and focused arguments? Both the “more legitimate” reason that such perceived pomposity and condescension communicates a lack of respect, a lack of acknowledgement of one’s own reality, and the “less legitimate” reason that the perception of such pomposity and condescension is an artifact of one’s own investment of ego in the false certainties that are being challenged, point to the same thing: Such discussions are perceived in terms of competing egos unless great pains are taken to ensure that they are perceived otherwise.
In a sense, I’ve just brought into question my own premise described in the title of this post: Is such “belligerence” really irrational? Isn’t it, on some level, true that what those others perceive as my pomposity and condescension is, in fact, an expression of my ego gorging on my ability to “win” an argument? And isn’t that an aggressive act, a kind of assault on others that invokes legitimate feelings of rage?
Yes, on some level I think that this is true. But it is also like resenting your opponent in an athletic match for out-performing you, because those same people are engaging in the same “competition,” striving to assert their own egos through their arguments on the topics of discussion. One woman, for instance, insisted that to believe in god was to adhere to a neolithic absurdity, and became very upset with me when I presented what I think was a pretty sophisticated argument why this is not necessarily so (see A Dialogue on Religion, Dogma, Imagination, and Conceptualization, though the ad hominems are omitted). Another became very hostile when I challenged her passionate insistence that the best thing progressives could do now would be to withdraw all support from the Democratic Party. Another regular poster reacted with similar (though more clenched) hostility when I effectively challenged his assumptions on education reform. In all these, and other, cases, their egos were no less invested than mine; they, no less than me, in a contest that they wished to win.
Yet, it all depends on what set of rules you have implicit in your mind while playing this “game.” For instance, few if any regulars on the blog in question appear offended by, or even cognizant of, the disdainful and dismissive aura of disembodied, superior authority cultivated so assiduously by the blog owner(s), though I find it far more “pompous” and “condescending” than my own form of argumentation, which never fails to admit to my own defects and humanity, but focuses intensely on mobilizing compelling arguments both untempered by social niceties and unreliant on ad hominem attacks.
I believe that this is because the rules of their game are: 1) Do not ever challenge the premise that, while people have strongly held conflicting opinions, the goal is not to reduce mutual false certainty and arrive together at improved understandings, but rather only to win political victories that advance one’s own dogmatic beliefs at the expense of the dogmatic beliefs of others; 2) It is perfectly acceptable to be vitriolic, disdainful, and dismissive of others, if you do so without violating rule number 1.
In other words, it’s acceptable to argue a position, but only if it is done without any intention of actually challenging the assumptions and conclusions of others; rather, it must be done in service to superficial political victories rather than any attempt to affect human consciousness. This is why it’s just as acceptable among these particular actors to focus in on completely irrelevant issues with which they might score political points as to make a compelling argument, and, in fact, more acceptable to do the former than to do the latter if the latter is done in a way which too profoundly challenges people’s assumptions and conclusions.
This was in fact summed up by one poster on the same blog, less inclined to vitriol and less antagonistic toward me than others, who counseled that I shouldn’t keep asking people to question all that they think is true. I replied that that’s not such a bad role to play, and there should be room on each forum for at least one person to play it.
And that gets to the crux of the matter: He or she who plays it becomes the center of a storm of vitriol for playing it, because what people least want is to have their comfortable false certainties challenged. One of the posters recently most antagonistic to me, assuming the job of posting constant, meaningless, snide attacks following every comment or post of mine, summed this up in an unintentionally flattering way: He wrote, “just drink the hemlock already, Socrates” (the point being that Socrates, who was famous for forcing people to question their own assumptions and conclusions, was sentenced to death for “corrupting the youth of Athens” by inducing them to question the certainties that the Athenian people considered sacrosanct).
A column printed in last Sunday’s Denver post, by syndicated columnist Froma Harrop, “The Op-Ed Pages Are No Tea Party” (http://www.projo.com/opinion/columnists/content/CL_froma21_08-21-11_C7PQ3VU_v11.390da.html), addresses one aspect of this issue: People resent compelling arguments that challenge their beliefs. As she writes:
My definition of incivility is nonfactual and uninformed opinions hidden in anonymity or false identities, and Internet forums overflow with them. When the comments gush in from orchestrated campaigns, other thoughtful views get lost in the flood. That can create two desired outcomes for the organizers. One, the writer gets cowed into thinking he or she has done something awful and holds back next time. Two, commentators outside the group see what’s up and don’t bother participating.
Vitriol without a smart argument is a bore. It’s not the vitriol alone that makes people most angry. It’s a strong argument that hits the bull’s-eye.
I would amend what she says slightly: It’s not only orchestrated campaigns that drive out other voices, but spontaneous group think, especially the highly aggressive and vitriolic kind. This is one aspect of the dynamic I’ve experienced, particularly on that Colorado political blog on which I participated frequently for a long period of time: While I was quite popular at first (winning or being runner up in their periodic “poster of the months” elections several times in succession), the belligerent voices of resistance to the role I was playing grew in number and intensity, while the calmer and more friendly voices correspondingly fell silent.
It wasn’t, I think, initially that very many of the latter group defected to the former, but rather that they ceded the field to them, loathe to get mired in the muck of contesting those angry voices. Then, over time, the growing imbalance creates a self-reinforcing impression of general consensus, that more and more people feel compelled to either acquiesce or actively adhere to. In fact, the one poster who has been most relentless most recently, appears to have been so to gain entry into the “clubhouse” with the sign out front “no stinky Steve Harveys allowed.” The vitriol serves to help consolidate a group-identity defined by the unwritten rules I stated above, rules which I consistently violated.
This dynamic permeates political discourse and political action, pushing out the questioning of assumptions or the quest for anything transcendent of current realities, enshrining and entrenching a certain kind of shallow ritualism, a competition of relatively arbitrary (and underexamined) opinions, played out professionally by strategists and tacticians rather than by those whose aspirations look beyond those exigencies of politics. And all of this is in service to the definition of borders between in-groups and out-groups, ultimately the least progressive and most regressive of all human forces.
An example of the professional political dimension is apparent in a correspondance I had with Senator Mark Udall’s office. First, I want to emphasize that I like Senator Udall, and do not aim this criticism particularly at him or his staff; it is, rather, indicative of something endemic to politics as it is currently practiced, and understandably so.
I sent Senator Udall (and a slew of others) a synopsis of my “Politics of Reason and Goodwill” proposal (see The Politics of Reason & Goodwill, simplified). His office sent back a letter, signed by him, blandly thanking me and stating his belief that, yes, reason and goodwill are laudable goals. It was clear that whoever responded to my proposal either did not read it or did not understand it, because it really has very little to do with some bland reaffirmation that “reason and goodwill are good” (rather, it’s a detailed, systemically informed plan for how to increase the salience of reason and goodwill in public opinion and policy formation).
The generic response from his office, totally missing the point, to a novel idea reaching beyond the mud-pit of politics is illustrative of how foreign these concepts (i.e., reason and goodwill) really are to politics, so beaten out of the actual practice that the mention of them triggers a reflexive dismissal of the reference as naively oblivious to political reality. As I said, I don’t really blame Senator Udall and his staff: This is how they’ve been trained and socialized. This is what experience has taught them. And that, combined with the time pressures on them and the volume of correspondence they receive virtually guarantees such a knee-jerk response (if any response is given at all).
Neither among the rank-and-file, nor at the highest levels, can we easily break through our investment in our current level and form of consciousness. Among the chattering masses, pushing in that direction violates a jealously guarded norm of conduct. Among the seasoned professionals, it violates the perceived lessons of history and experience. But it is precisely the most profound and important of all challenges facing us.
(Continued from Can Wisdom & Compassion Go Viral? Part I, which addresses the question, in general, of our conscious role in the evolution of human consciousness.)
In a series of posts over the past few days (The Dance of Consciousness, The Algorithms of Complexity, Transcendental Politics), I’ve explored the connection between, on the one hand, “the evolutionary ecology” paradigm (found in a series of essays linked to in the first box at Catalogue of Selected Posts) encompassing not just the biosphere as we normally think of it, but also the anthrosphere subsystems of it (i.e., our cognitive, social institutional and technological landscape), and, on the other, the social movement that I’ve been conceptualizing and advocating which seeks to most robustly produce and spread the memes and “emes” (i.e., the cognitions and emotions) of imaginative reason and compassionate goodwill. Combined, they form aspects of a single paradigm, a set of memes articulated into coherent unity by other memes which identify organizing principles.
Though I enjoy a steady flow of visitors to my windswept cave in these virtual mountains, and hundreds of folks who have registered on Colorado Confluence and “liked” my Colorado Confluence Facebook page, still, this blog is just one marginal eccentric’s voice lost in a cacophony of virtual noise. There is nothing other than the judgment of readers, and their active communication of that judgment, to commend (or condemn) me to others. I am not an accredited source of wisdom, nor even a recognized pundit called upon to share my insights on talk shows generally more focused on the relatively superficial and transient (which is not to say necessarily trivial or unimportant).
There are many ways to promote reason and goodwill that have nothing to do with Colorado Confluence. Certainly, every kind word and gesture, every calming voice, every act of forgiveness and tolerance, every compelling argument gently delivered, every reminder of our humanity to those most inclined to forget it, is such service of the highest order. It is always the most essential and, ironically, often the most difficult to achieve.
But what I hope I have done here is to provide one well-conceived and precisely articulated framework through which to focus and organize such efforts. I am certain that it is not the only such attempt, nor is it necessarily the best such attempt, but it is one of the relatively few contributions to a meta-dialogue that we too infrequently have, and too meagerly invest in. Those most engaged in our shared endeavor of life on Earth are also most focused on the issues of the day, leaving relatively unattended by a combination of too little time and too little interest (and perhaps too little belief in our ability) the deeper questions of what we can do to affect for the better our long-term evolution as a civilization.
There is nothing new about such attempts, but previous ones have generally acquired much baggage along the way, or were conceived in cauldrons of assumptions and beliefs that doomed them to the dust heap of history. This may well meet the same fate, but it is one of a smaller subset of such attempts which consciously strives not to: It is an attempt to reach farther and deeper into “the suchness,” to assume less but accommodate more, and to focus on the process of discovery and realization rather than to fetishize and ideologically enshrine its products.
History is strewn with the successes and failures of imaginative intellectuals with too much time on their hands (or an obsession that drove them to spend more time than they had), and the best bet right now is that I’m just another who won’t even rise to the ranks of a forgotten footnote. But ideas beget ideas, and well-reasoned, imaginative discourse generates more well-reasoned, imaginative discourse. The value of the ideas expressed on this blog may well be the ideas they spark in others, the swirls and eddies they contribute to in The Fractal Geometry of Social Change, themselves mere catalysts that are forgotten by all but their author.
But I’m proud of what I’ve accomplished here, proud of the coherently eclectic, humbly ambitious, richly informed, frequently insightful, occasionally psychedelic yet assiduously realistic and practical vision of the underlying nature of our existence, what we are capable of, and how we can most robustly and effectively navigate the former to realize the latter.
So I’m going to ask those of you who agree to some extent, who believe that the ideas published on this blog make a valuable contribution to our shared discourse and our shared endeavor, to help me to broadcast them more widely. The internet has provided us with an amazing tool to amplify both noise and signal, one which can utilize the logic of chain letters and pyramid schemes not merely to enrich a few enterprising con artists, but rather to enrich, even if only marginally, our collective consciousness.
We all know about entertaining videos and clever compositions (such as the college application essay that included, among other things, “full contact origami”) going “viral,” something that has occurred throughout human history (as I explained in Can Wisdom & Compassion Go Viral? Part I) in the forms of rumors and religions, techniques and motifs, stories and strategies. The wheel has rolled across the planet many times over, probably originating with a prehistoric potter seeking symmetry rather than transportation. The floods, the phalluses and fertility figurines, the flutes and fletched arrows; the games, the gadgets, the gods and guns. Memes and paradigms have been going viral throughout human history. It is incumbent on us to strive to spread “eases” rather than diseases, and to foment epidemics of marginally increased wisdom and humanity.
The internet has given us greater power to do so, and greater responsibility to help others cut through the noise to find the signal. If you believe that there is something here of value, please help others to discover it too. By your even minimal and occasional assistance, I gain only the gratification not only of doing what I do well, but also of inspiring others to increase its reach and effect, in what I hope may become rippling waves through our shared cognitive landscape.
Please, repost and share what you find on Colorado Confluence, new and old, as liberally as your conscience permits, and encourage others to do the same. Follow me (steveharveyHD28) on Twitter (which I use almost exclusively to link to posts on Colorado Confluence), and retweet my tweets. Recommend Colorado Confluence to friends (by going to the Colorado Confluence Facebook page, for instance, and clicking the “suggest to friends” icon in the upper right margin, then selecting some or all of your friends to recommend it to), and encourage them to recommend it to theirs. Help me to create or contribute to a grass roots movement that aspires to something beyond immediate political advantage and looks beyond the false certainties we all are so often seduced by, yet not removed from the ultimate political struggle of discovering and realizing the fullest extent of our humanity.
Let’s once again transform the world in ways few have yet begun to imagine possible, but many will some day take for granted.
A reader’s comment on the Denver Post article (http://www.denverpost.com/politics/ci_16245276) about my friend John Flerlage’s race against Republican incumbent Mike Coffman in CD 6 got me thinking about the title question. The reader wrote that the journalists at the Denver Post looked like fools for pretending that Mike Coffman and Diana DeGette had credible opponents. Which raises the question: Should the post ignore opponents in races where the odds are heavily against them? What should the threshold be?What criteria should be employed? Should news media acknowledge major party (i.e., Democratic and Republican) candidates regardless of the odds they face, but not long-shot minor party or independent candidates? Should the news media acknowledge all candidates, including every self-annointed outlier who manages to declare and file?
If any candidate merits comparable attention to any other just for declaring and filing, that invites a very high noise-to-signal ratio (i.e., the reporting of a lot of news that isn’t news worthy). But if major party candidates challenging incumbents in what are considered “safe seats” don’t merit attention, then the news media become complicit in an anointment of the incumbent, signalling through inattention that the challenger isn’t worthy of anyone’s consideration. As I wrote in response to that Denver Post reader, we don’t call elections before they’re held based on a projection of the odds; we actually hold them, and do not assume they are ever irrelevant. In fact, the news media should report on any candidate that represents a significant faction of the population in that jurisdiction, as major party candidates always do, and as others sometimes do.
Democracy is not just, or even primarily, about who wins elections. This is something that almost no one seems to understand, and least of all many of those who think they are the most politically savvy (i.e., political bloggers). Democracy is about a far more complex set of interrelated dynamics, of which electoral outcomes are just one facet. It is about the right of each to express their will in the political arena, regardless of whether that will is likely to prevail. It is about organizing, and communicating, and competing, affecting minds and hearts. And it is about minorities -some admirable, some reprehensible- fighting to prevail over majorities -some admirable, some reprehensible- against overwhelming odds, and over long periods of time.
The people whose ancestors were brought here in shackles to serve as chattel faced long odds every step of the way to emancipation and then, after another century of egregious institutionalized discrimination, civil rights protections. But that doesn’t mean that they, or their aspirations, were irrelevant until they won, or even until they had a good chance of winning. The outcome of that struggle depended as much on those who kept it alive through long generations of defeat as upon those who were eventually victorious.
Democracy is about a competition of ideas, of aspirations, of visions for the future. When a long-shot candidate runs in an almost impossible to win race, win or lose, that candidate, if successful, advances the ideas and aspirations and visions for the future that he or she holds dear. That candidate provides a rallying point for those ideas, those aspirations, those visions for the future. That candidate is the symbol of their persistence against the odds, of their unwillingness to die just because they are unpopular. And, if and when the tide ever turns, and that minority ever becomes a majority (or persuades a majority), or even gains enough numbers to influence policy in their district, it may, in some small measure, be due to the efforts of those previous candidates who couldn’t win, and didn’t.
Like John Flerlage, I’m running in a district (state house, in my case) in which the odds are overwhelmingly against me. I hate having to pretend that I don’t know the odds, and, in fact, rarely do. The numbers are worse in my district, by a considerable margin, than they are in any other that the Democrats have recently won against the odds. In 2010, it really is all but impossible for me to win (2012 may be another story). And I’m running with that knowledge, not against it.
I’m running to move ideas, to move the center of gravity of my district, to sow the seeds of an eventual victory, and to cultivate the ideas and values that I so passionately believe best serve our collective interests. I’m not running just to engage in an empty ritual, going through motions that are not the best way to use my candidacy to maximum effect just because “that’s what candidates are supposed to do.” I’m running because by doing so, along with blogging and speaking and meeting people and engaging in various on-the-ground efforts, I can have a meaningful and positive impact on the distribution of beliefs and understandings both in my district and beyond. I’m running because unless those who are facing impossible odds continue to face them, reason and justice can never prevail against those odds.
And that’s what democracy is really all about.
Happy Birthday, Steve! I hope you special day has been as pleasant and interesting as you are! Best wishes for a successful year to come!