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The Importance Of Doing Things That Are Hard

The Importance Of Doing Things That Are Hard

By Dennis Loo (3/19/14)

There have ever been those who counsel that change is not possible in the face of power and popularity. It will always be so. It is simply not possible to be for justice in the face of injustice and not have to battle against the odds to achieve it. The most advanced understanding gains its footing only through struggle. If it were not the most advanced understanding then obtaining it would be easy: just do what the lowest common denominator wants to do. (GDS, pp. 341-342)

Back when the Bush Regime occupied the White House, the way they occupied Afghanistan and Iraq, and equally illegitimately, I was one of the leaders of the national effort to impeach Bush and Cheney. In the course of those years, as the very first words out of their mouths upon hearing that I was involved in trying to get Bush and Cheney impeached, four people told me, in separate incidents, exactly the same thing in exactly the same words: “It’ll never happen.”

No one else I spoke to or heard from ever said this. People either said they didn’t think they should be impeached – a minority - or they thought that they should be impeached – a majority - but no one else declared with this kind of self-assured certainty: “It’ll never happen.”

The four people who said this didn’t preface their declaration with, “I hope they are impeached, but it’ll never happen.” Or, “It should happen, but it’ll never happen.” Or even, “I would like to see it happen, but it’ll never happen.”

No, they were dead certain that it would never happen and their smug remarks were meant to say that they would certainly not be caught dead doing anything to help it happen. The four people who told me this were all middle-aged, white male professionals, three of them professors. One of them has very bad politics, so I expected that from him, but the other three of them claim that they're progressive.

Some people will not stick their necks out for a cause, even if that cause is something that could save untold numbers of lives. They would rather dismiss others’ efforts with a rhetorical wave: “It’ll never happen.” But if this attitude were to be universally adopted, then nothing advanced would ever have happened in human history. No breakthrough inventions would ever have been discovered in the face of such dismissiveness. No fights against injustice such as slavery, female bondage, genocide, 14-hour working days for workers, child labor, fascism, and tyrannies of all kinds would ever have been ended.

There is a larger group of people, which these four white professional males constitute a subset of, who object to trying to change things on the grounds that there is no guarantee that their efforts will bear fruition. “Maybe in a hundred years. I don’t see it happening in my lifetime,” they say. To which I have recently taken to saying in response: “The planet doesn’t have a hundred years. Capitalism is destroying the planet.”

Some people, upon hearing that retort, say: “Well, if you put it that way…”

The fact of the matter is you can’t stand up for what’s right if you’re not willing to brook resistance. Standing up for what’s right always involves going up against the tide.

The easy paths have always been the low roads. The best interests of humanity and of the planet have always rested in the hands of those relative few willing to lead others onto the high road.

Some people insist that real change is not possible. “Revolution will never happen,” they say authoritatively, declaring that those who disagree with them are either starry-eyed dreamers or opportunistic manipulators, or even worse, both, wolves in sheep’s clothing … [but] as any reasonably long view of history tells us: human history is full of changes, including revolutionary changes. No, our no-nonsense, dead certain cynics are wrong to insist that change is impossible because their stance seeks to rationalize not doing things that should be done. What should be done on moral and/or legal grounds must be done, whether or not you can guarantee success for your actions. If it were otherwise and you should only stand up for principle when you know that you are going to win, then expedience would be the only principle governing humanity. If the criterion for doing the right thing were whether or not you could guarantee success beforehand, then the right thing would never have been done. Societies would have remained stuck at the stages in which slaves were the norm, or when women were entirely the property of men, or when being from the wrong tribe or region meant that you could be sacrificed, raped, and enslaved at will. None of history’s rebellions or revolutions would have happened, because those who fought for them to happen would have never done so because there was no guarantee ahead of time that they would succeed. The odds they faced in launching their fights were long and only the brave dared press forward in the face of the dangers ahead. (GDS, p. 342)

In other words, those who complacently assert that the realistic path means staying quiet in the face of grave injustice, or even worse, cooperating with tyrants, because you are fighting against long odds, are on the wrong side of history. They are also on the wrong side of morality and the legal norms that set a standard precisely to avoid the arbitrariness of authority and power - based on extensive historical experience. They are the unrealistic ones and cowards who think that looking the other way will not result in things getting much worse.

In the years preceding Hitler's naming to the German Chancellorship many German Jews and others kept telling themselves that it can't get any worse and it can't possibly go any further. Except that it did. The 1933 Reichstag Fire, set by Herman Goering and the Nazis but blamed on the Communists, was the Nazis' excuse to suspend civil liberties and freedom of the press entirely. It was the German equivalent of our 9/11. (Impeach the President: the Case Against Bush and Cheney, p. xx).

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