Saturday, October 04, 2008

Existential Algebra

Here's a bit of existential algebra. How much difference can one person make in the world?

I have tended to underestimate that, I think. As an artist, I have eschewed the role of 'activist' as being too limiting. Besides, my sense of anger too easily ties my tongue in knots. I wind up writing embarrassing rants that collapse at my feet under their own indignant weight.

Activism seems more goal driven. Art requires a willingness to end up in a different place than you intended when starting out. Which is to say, a willingness to be surprised. Art requires a certain detachment (from outcome) and paradoxically a sense of passion (translated hope). Therein lies the creative tension. How does one manage to maintain passionate detachment? It is easy to get out of whack. Writer's block, depression, cynicism step in to fill the gaps.

Underestimating the impact of the individual is one of those gaps. Everyone rushes in to proclaim a hero, and the artist hangs back. There are no heroes, how much difference can one person make? The hero walks hand in hand with the anti-hero. The sun casts its long shadow.

There is undeniable truth in that observation, as long as you recognize the limitations of it as well. It is not an excuse to do nothing and retreat into cynicism, or quietism, or defeatism. Instead, it is the opportunity to lay hold of your own destiny and not place it in the hands of someone else. Hero or villain.

How much difference can one person really make in the world? My answer. George W. Bush.

In eight years his incurious incompetence has changed the world in astounding ways. Mostly for the worst. Now, if one person's incompetence and unresolved father issues can produce such disastrous changes, isn't the opposite, the capacity for positive change, just as possible at the hand of one person? I believe it is.

If one person can be responsible for so much devastation, one person can also manage to turn it around. Which makes me hopeful for the coming election. Which moves me to be part of my world, with all its shortcomings. Which is to say, shoulder my share of the activist load.

I was never very good at algebra. But, in the midst of the terrible destruction and devastation of Bush years, I can be grateful to be coming out them with this measure of hope still in the social equation. No small feat.

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