For my sins, our host (I use the gender neutral form because Hostess makes Twinkies and Sarah Hoyt’s too busy for Twinkies) has tasked me with another post.
We need…something to dream on.
History that feeds the soul.
It’s time to gather the pieces and rebuild.
– Sarah A. Hoyt,
I want to talk about picking up the pieces and rebuilding. Not just putting it back together, but building it better.
If you’ve got your eyes open, you know the days are getting dark. There’s more than a little adversity facing us, from all sides. While we’ve been getting on with our lives the opposition’s been creeping into position and they’ve corrupted our story. They’re getting to us, bit by bit. Catching us while we’re young and undermining the essential context of our lives. Hemming us in when we take the stage into adulthood. And dropping stumbling blocks in our path as we move through life. It’s in the schools, the universities and the increasing regulatory burden hanging above us all. It’s in the corrupted institutions of our various governments and the perverse incentives that foster a stifling bureaucracy. I’d say it’s in the air, but I don’t want the EPA to get any ideas.
We all know the new story, right? Humanity is corrupted; we’re a disease and a problem. Our history is one of strife and despoilment. America is not a great nation. We’re a country established by arrogant, flawed people. We have dark stains on our history, and it will bleed through to everything we do. Most people are a drain, a burden on the country and a blight on the planet. In this world people get ahead by stepping on the faces of the people around them. Countries get ahead by grinding other nations into the mud. Success is greed and theft. If you’re up somebody else has got to be down. It’s the story of ‘Privilege.’ Know it, own it, regret it. You’re not what you’ve made of yourself; you’re the accumulated advantage taken from others.
We know the next bit, too. The only way to expiate our guilt is to surrender to the collective. Our successes are not our own, they can’t be, we owe someone else for every step. And we must pay that debt, hand our work back and appreciate the opportunity to lessen the weight of history. Oh, yeah, and make ourselves available to be sacrificed to the greater worker’s paradise.
Except, that’s not the America I know. That’s not even the humanity I know.
Were our founders flawed? Sure, they were as human as the rest of us. Doesn’t matter. Our great men aren’t “Great Men.” They’re regular folks that had great moments. We have no need for a myth of superiority and infallible decision. We don’t want, wouldn’t believe in, and couldn’t follow a ruler ‘anointed by G-d.’ Not only is it not in our mythology, it’s not in our history. Do we have dark spots in our history? Never doubt it. Does it inevitably bleed through? Well, no. We don’t trace our blood and heritage to define our destiny. A fair enough portion of the time we don’t let yesterday’s fumbles interfere with today. Why would we let dead history tie the living down? As to most people being a drain: “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free…” How about stepping on faces, grinding into the mud, greed and theft? That’s why our wealthiest citizens are descended from the most powerful families of the first colonies, right? And why our enemies have been utterly destroyed and lost to history. We knew so well that to get ahead we had to hold somebody else back that at the close of the last world war we crippled our enemies and ensured they would never again hinder our progress. Not the way you remember it? Hm. So where does that leave Privilege? Where d’ya think?
But you know all this, right? Preacher – meet Choir. So, what’s next? We do what we do. We walk into the smoking ruin they’re making of our story, our history and culture, and we pick up the pieces.
I can look around, like the rest of you, and see where this country’s going. I don’t have any illusions (Okay, I’ve got a few, but they’re precious. And delicate, keep your paws to yourself, I’m keeping ‘em.), the country I grew up in is gone. We’re not getting it back. And no amount of raging against the tide is going to fix that. Irrevocable change has been wrought.
So? Listen, I don’t have any more desire to go back to 1986 or 1976 than I do 1776. The American story, big and small, has been about moving forward. Ours is the story of change, growth and learning. Our destiny is not written in yesterdays, but in tomorrows. How can it be otherwise? We’re a land of immigrants, refugees from every spot on the globe. On top of that, we’re a land that values individuality, character and passion. When somedude from someplace lands on our shores, and sets out to do his thing knowing full well he can get it done, this thing he knows, it’s the secret his momma whispered to him as a babe… We don’t tell him he can’t do it. We don’t start talking about how that’s not how it’s done. We get out the lawn chairs, drag out the coolers, pass the beers around and get ready to watch the show. And if he stumbles a bit along the way, we all do, one of us sets our beer under the chair (don’t be eyeing it, I’m gonna finish it) and gets up to lend a steadying hand. We’re inclined to cheer his successes and jeer the obstacles, celebrate the triumphs and commiserate the set-backs. After he’s done and something new is built and change has been wrought to our way of life, we get out of our chairs and go buy some of what he’s selling. Do you have any notion of how rare and precious that is?
This new guy, this guy that just revolutionized that thing with his stuff, you know he talks kinda funny? And have you seen the food he likes?
He doesn’t talk any funnier than those folks up in Boston. Seen his food? I’ve eaten his food! (He’s not kidding about the peppers) I’m still trying to get the recipe from him.
We embrace change and the people who bring it. We take it and build the next chapter of the American story. We don’t step on anybody’s face to do it, we lift them to our shoulders so they can reach their goals, and they pull us up behind them. Other countries, other times? Not so much.
This is our strength, and a bit of our weakness. It’s how we got where we are today. We’re willing to give anybody a listen, and see what they can do. And that’s been used against us. The opposition has done a little preparation, sowed some ideas and undermined some foundations. Then they stepped up and said Lemme show you what I can do! And by and large we’ve let them try their experiment. Our willingness to adapt new cultural ideas and explore new ways of getting things done, our ability to take people as they come, has been used to introduce a bit of corruption into our culture and lead some of us astray.
But back to that strength: They haven’t solidified our essential nature despite their attempts. Our people, ALL of our people, are as fluid and susceptible to new ideas, better ways, change and progress as they were before. Skeptical, sure, but ultimately receptive. We just have to tell ‘em a story they can believe in.
Let’s talk about the Human Wave. This is what rebuilding looks like, American style. We’ve got some general guidelines, and we’ve got a goal, why you still sitting about? Make it happen! From that original idea, that manifesto Sarah put forth, I think the Human Wave concept has grown, and will continue to grow, and yeah, change. She staked out ground to build a new idea of SF/F, and a lot of us aspire to pitch in on that project. Behind that, though, the subsequent waves are the broader ideas of the story of America and where we go from here.
Some of us are storytellers and are trying to build that narrative in the very literal sense. We’ve got folks around here working on reclaiming the history, some working to define the present, and a gaggle or so looking to the future. And we’ve got job lots of folks who are actually building things. Their narrative is the life they’re putting out there and the product of their hands and minds. The task we have in the Human Wave is to bring all this to the front. To put these ideas and this work on the table and call attention to it. Lemme show you what we can do, what we have done, what we will do!
We can start by telling the truth about American ‘leaders.’ This massive, heterogeneous society built from the people and cultures and religions of the world, who’s going to stand at our head and lead us into the future? *Snort*
We don’t really have leaders, not the way other folks mean it. We’ve got some folks we send up to Washington to do the scut work. The President, the ‘leader of the free world?’ At best, he’s the CEO of the administrative function of government. He’s the kid we voted to stay after class and straighten the desks, and clean the boards, and make sure the trash gets taken out. In short, he’s supposed to make sure everything is ready for us to get back to doing what we do. Whatever we decide that is. Congress? Supply clerks, the lot of ‘em. Keep an eye on the budget, make sure the executive has what he needs to clean up (but not enough to start ‘fixing’ things, we’ll see to that, thanks.), do your best to stay out of the way. That leaves the Judiciary. Here’s the keys, and a checklist, make sure everybody follows the list, and keep the place locked up so the hoodlums don’t get in and wreck things.
An American politician stepping up to lead the way will have a few folks following along behind to see where he’s going, and a ton of folks standing along the route to critique the route, his stride, his attire, how he fixes his hair, heckle him about where he’s going, and frequently poke a farm implement or flag pole in his path to trip him up. But he’s not likely to look over his shoulder and find 314 million people behind him. Unless they’re dogging his heels as he runs out of town…
We’re as likely to listen to what somebody’s got to say, and respond, “That thing you said, right there at the end? I liked that. The rest of it, you can stick that back in the bull, he’s got more use for it than I.” (You think the Lightbringer’s any different? Look around; look at what the MSM isn’t telling you. Ignore the cheerleaders, they make money pasting those smiles on.)
Well, who’s going to lead the Human Wave? Nobody. We’re going to handle this like we handle everything else. Recovery doesn’t come from the center; it’s not coordinated from the top. It can’t be. Nobody can know enough to sit in the center and coordinate the recovery, when they try vast resources are inevitably wasted. This country wasn’t built by grand visionaries leading the way to the future, but by individuals with great ideas building on their patch to make it better. Human wave at its best should be the same. Building things back up from the bottom, making it better, stronger than before. Restoring belief in American exceptionalism, which is really the belief that an individual, regardless of origin, regardless of yesterday, can put a shoulder to the task, dig in their heels and build a better future. For themselves, their families, and for all of us.
Once the news trucks are gone, and the politicians are done posturing and spouting sound bites, American recoveries are always dispersed recoveries. Individual people, free to associate as they see fit, go about setting things back in place. They call their friends and neighbors, they check with somebody who ‘knows a guy,’ they hire some strong backs and willing hands, and they build their little patch of the future. And they build the next chapter of American history along the way.
Some folks are looking at the wreckage right now, and frowning. This isn’t a little mess; this is a pile of broken structures and detritus. It’s dangerous and unstable and I don’t know enough people like me to even start digging this out, much less rebuild it. Where do we even start?
Grab the first piece you can get your hands on, pull it out of the way. Get your back into it, your friends’ll be along. Somebody’s going to show up with some extra gloves you can use. Somebody around here knows a guy that’s got a big loader; they’ll call him and get him over here. He’s got some buddies, they like big machines and know where the keys are, give ‘em a bit and we’ll really start moving this mess. You know there’s some obsessive types wandering around here, they’ll set to sorting out the wreckage and making piles of what to keep, what to recycle and what needs to be burned. Bit by bit, one by one, we’ll start to come together and sort this mess. And when the ground is clear, we’ve got builders aplenty. There’s a couple of engineers over there sitting on a chunk of concrete sketching right now. We can start putting this thing back up. We can rebuild, and build new, roll with the changes and make it better.
I’m not Pollyanna, you know. This is gonna suck. No way around it. A lot of sweat and tears are going to go into this. We’re going to smear a little of our blood on the wreckage, digging it out. We’re going to sink a lot of time into it. Not days, or months. Years. Some of us may not make it to the end. All of us are going to have to take a breather. Waves crash. They come tumbling down and come apart and slide back into the whole. That’s okay. Because no sooner than the first wave breaks, another is rolling in behind taking up the cause. In that wave, and the next, are those we’ve influenced and those we’ve brought up after us and those we’ve called to our shore to be of us.
So take a deep breath, gather it into your tissues. Feel the swell building around you. Embrace the suck and let’s catch this next wave into the next chapter. We can ride the Human Wave back into the heart and glory of America, wash it clean, pick up the pieces and build anew.
I’ve got this piece. You wanna grab that one?