Hold fast to dreams//For if dreams die//Life is a broken-winged bird//That cannot fly.//Hold fast to dreams//For when dreams go//Life is a barren field//Frozen with snow.
With this poem by Langston Hughes I ended my graduation speech in high school. I remember it now as I am pondering how to put into words my feelings and thoughts of the last weeks oscillating between hope, fear and despair — triggered by the events unfolding after the Greek delegation “left the negotiating table” in Brussels on 27 June. When I graduated from high school more than 20 years ago I was quite hopeful (like generations before me) that knowledge combined with political activism could change the world for the better. Already then I was fearful of environmental disaster and military destruction, but periodical acts of teenage disobedience – plastering the school with antiwar poems to protest against the first Iraq war or blasting music over the courtyard while staging an impromptu play (I cannot remember against or for what exactly) — were not only fun but gave me and my friends a sense of agency – “Viele kleine Leute an vielen kleinen Orten, ….”/think global act local.
In the meantime the world has become no friendlier place (but who am I to state this privileged as I am). I may be wiser (although sometimes I doubt it), but I also succumbed to a mixture of complacency or trust in professions and institutions, resignation and perpetual lack of time. I trust that science and politics will do something to keep us safe and free, that one of the political parties will have a programme relatively compatible with my ideological leanings. I close my ears to the horror scenarios describing the consequences of climate change as I have stopped believing that we will achieve a reorganization of our economy and am too much of a coward to confront the disasters that lie ahead. But apart from complacency and resignation the possibly most significant difference to my political teenage self is the perceived loss of time. Time spent with friends who also had nothing more important to do than to think up little projects – plays, posters, protests… I am lucky that my current job does not meet the description of a “bullshit job” (recently formulated by David Graeber), but appears to leave me some freedom for thinking, educating, creating. Yet this has not helped to sustain the sense of agency I felt as a youth. I have become more knowledgable, my critique better founded but I no longer see how we (who?) might halt ecological destruction or social destitution. And thus I am not even using the time and space offered by my job for any kind of mischief that would combine joy, resistance and engagement for change.
The last weeks now worked like a wake up call for me, triggering a sense of urgency for action, some action, any action and if it is only the writing of this post (which prompts a multitude of voices in my head judging my musings to be “gratuitious”, “empirically unfounded”, “theoretically undercomplex” …). So what was the trigger that suspended resignation and shattered complacency and trust (“Vertrauen” — a word I have come to loathe in the past weeks for its abuse and misuse by crisis commentators)? It was, I suspect, a combination of a heightened perception of complicity in a number of outrageous injustices and the excitement that agency may be regained. I may have long resigned to the fact that my privilege is the flip side of other people’s poverty, that through my daily consumption choices I am perpetuating structural injustices. Read the rest of this entry…