2017. A New Year that demands of us an affirmation of Hope
By Konstantinos Travlos
Abstract: The coming year will be a hard one. Already it has begun with dis-heartening events in Istanbul. But we must not lose hope. We must, per Hamlet “make mouths at the invisible event”, affirming our humanity and seeking to positively influence our own, and others, life.
Already 2017 has seen the first terrorist attack in Istanbul. Many of my US friends enter the new year dis-heartened by the prospect of a Trump Presidency. My Greek friends do show their customary bon-vivant not letting the gloom of 2016 cast it shadows on 2017 for them. It is tempting to be dis-heartened. All of our educated guesses point to 2017 being a less than stellar year. But it is a mistake to attribute to a concept, the year, the actions of humans. And because it is not years, but humans who do things, it is imperative for us to be hopeful.
As someone with an avid amateur interest in history, and military history at that (that goes as far as pushing toy soldiers around), at times of crisis my mind goes back to examples of history that will help fortify me from a potentially gloomy present. In the end it is that, more than anything else, that is the most useful part of history (and it’s sometimes unhappy child, political science). My mind went to the millions of soldiers, and their families, that were facing New Year 1917 in Europe. Despite the carnage around them, the deprivations, the hate unleashed by two years and a third of one of war, I am confident that many of those millions welcomed the New Year with feelings of joy, and hope. Hope for peace and for better things. That the political leaders used those feelings of hope to fuel another two years of war was a choice, not pre-ordained by a year, but made by human beings. Those subsequent choices do not negate those feelings of hope on January 1st, 1917. Nor should choices made by some on December 31st 2016, or impeding choices, do so on January 1st,2017.
Hope, much maligned by cynics who in their hearts of hearts do hope (otherwise why live?), is the quintessential human trait. We live in a universe of wonder, but one cool gaze to the stars shows how in many ways insignificant we are. Galaxies collide with each other tearing apart countless planets and stars, potentially many earth-like planets, potentially some human-like civilizations. To “make mouth at the invisible event” in such a universe is an act of hope. Hope and bravery. And an affirmation that we as humans are beings with some agency over our lives.
We do not control galaxies (well not yet, give it time). We do not control history, the acts of those before us who chain us in such cruel ways (one need but cast an eye to relations between people of European and African descend in places like the USA, South Africa, or Brazil). We do not control the actions of the violence junkie, who drunk off self-righteous prejudice dressed in the mantle of the divine, opens fire on a crowd of people filled with joy. We do not control in the end the decisions brought by a large number of people, mediated by institutions that have given the most liberal, democratic, and cosmopolitan country in the world, a leader so manifestly opposed to those ideals. But we do control to a point whether we enter the New Year in hope, and how we use that hope. For someone will use that hope, and it is better that we do, even if we fail.
At the very least do not let these actions of others poison your and yours New Year. In Turkey, hold those who have created an atmosphere of hate accountable in even the tiniest way. Refuse to let them define your life or the New Year. Do not lose hope. Seek out the non-violent resistance measures that will either bring the change you want, or give you freedom from those who want to change you. Remember, those who study civil resistance have found indicators that it may very well be that no government can survive 5% of its population actively engaged in civil resistance. A big number, but not an impossible one. But remember, loving your family and trying to as best live your life according to your way of life, is in itself an action of resistance.
For the US, the history of the US is full of unhappy presidencies. And we have examples of how to resist them. The Civil Rights Movement stands as the greatest example of this. There are ways to resist. Making sure the 2019 Congress is as unfriendly to the Republican Party and the President as possible is a first. Fortifying liberal states from an unfriendly federal government is a second. If these two fail, and a Republican super-majority tries to amend the constitution on key elements (the right of women to control their bodies, the right of communities to police the ownership of guns), civil resistance is the next path. This can start from something similar to the Civil Rights Movement, and depending on the reaction, escalate to something similar to the Abolitionist Movement, and if need be the creation of parallel structures challenging the Federal Government in emulation to the Irish Republic and the British Empire. Let us hope prudence reigns, but if it does not, we have reference points for successful political resistance. Hope used well is power.
For Greece, things might be simpler. Partly because many of my Greek friends are used to “make mouth at the invisible event”. It seems to be a mass characteristic of Greek society, for good and ill. And partly because the most important decision Greeks must make this year is to commit to either staying in the Euro whatever its consequences, or leaving it whatever its consequences. I hope they get to make that choice. Either way there will be pain. But pain chosen, is not the same thing as pain received.
Hope then, hope despite and because of this ugly and beautiful world. And let us all make mouths at the invisible event.
* Make mouths at the invisible event-shamelessly stolen from Shakespeare’s “Hamlet”. Not exactly the most hopeful of plays :p