In his 1957 lecture “Create Dangerously,” Nobel Prize-winning writer and philosopher Albert Camus spoke of a wise man who “always used to ask the divinity in his prayers to be so kind as to spare him from living in an interesting era.” In a time as interesting as ours, many of us may be doing the same.
While no one would wish for boredom and stagnation, I’d much prefer that to the chaos and confusion that make our lives so interesting today. Needless to say, there is no space for boredom in an America where presidents incite attacks on government buildings and tear gas groups of peaceful protesters to clear the way for a photo op. And where lawmakers respond to a man being killed by state violence by reenacting the scene of the murder and thanking him for “sacrificing” his life. And where almost twenty states have actively made it more difficult for citizens to vote in the span of less than a year. Being constantly exposed to such a situation, as three hundred million of us are, I’ll admit that even I am moments away from begging the heavens for still waters.
We’ve all heard that desperate times call for desperate measures. This is a principal worry of mine – the times appear to grow more desperate by the day, so how desperate will the resulting measures be? An even more haunting question is how desperate can they be? In addition to the historic events of January 6th, Americans continue to lash out with increasing violence. They espouse fantastical conspiracy theories that uplift the twice-impeached former president as the only hope we have left against a worldwide cabal of child sex traffickers. They riot and loot. They threaten the lives of politicians. And it pains me to assume that we haven’t yet seen the apex of this madness.
But in considering our most ridiculous reactions, stupid and untenable as they may be, I believe that I began to better understand why we’ve been doing what we have. Until recently, I couldn’t conjure the faintest idea of how an otherwise sane and rational person could become a conspiracy-drunk extremist. I would wonder, what has to happen to someone for things to go this wrong? What catastrophe leads to the belief that the government is run by human/alien/reptile hybrids? Though that particular conspiracy theory is a dated one, I realized that the answer was literally all around me. This mysterious catastrophe, this thing that has happened is merely the reality we live in.
Much like the mentality of a cult member, people often cling to the fantastic as an escape from a painful or unacceptable reality. Cults and conspiracies are not the only options, of course: some read science fiction, watch movies, do perception-altering drugs, etc. The constant is that each one functions as an oasis, and it is an oasis that we so desperately need. There has probably never been a more confusing time in American history than the present. Our views are so conflicting and varied that it can sometimes feel like no two people believe the same thing. And how can we even know what to believe amid the cacophony of politically motivated news, widespread hoaxes, political crockery, and whatever is making the rounds on social media?
Though it has never been more challenging, we should have faith in our ability to uncover the facts and discard the fiction. Most of us possess enough sense to have an inkling of the truth without even trying. For example, extensive research isn’t required to confirm that President Biden isn’t a reptile.
We are a literally and figuratively battle-weary people, perpetually performing thousand-yard stares. We pine and pine for anything promising to make sense of our suffering, so much so that we too often sell our sapience to the sweetest-talking bidder. But it is far beyond the hour for flattery. We’ve a duty to ourselves and each other to respond to our grief constructively. Even though we are tired, beaten and battered, we must remain shrewd and proactive. Soundness of judgment and action will deliver us from these depths, not fairytales.