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Why I will not be compelled to speak publicly about [insert atrocity here]

Denny:

If history demonstrates that Israel committed genocide in 2024 how will you feel about your silence, your role as an enabler?

That’s my question to you if you’re silent on the subject of the current events in Gaza. And if your silence does not enable wrong policy and action, explain to me why it does not.

… I would suggest that tax-paying citizens of the United States do need to take a public position as a matter of basic human accountability and decency in regards to basic human rights.

If the public remains silent or is seen to remain silent on an issue the government can and does point to such lack of dissent as approval.

Denny and I have talked enough that I think we both know we have certain values in common and he won’t take what I have to say here as anything other than a good-faith attempt to answer his challenge. The tone of this is a bit testier than usual and that should not be construed as me being angry at Denny (an honorable, principled person) or anyone else. It is the result of my strong feelings about retaining my independence. Those feelings, in turn, probably go back to the churches of my childhood, which sought uniformity of lifestyle and opinion above all else. Independent thinking was not allowed. I have a strong reaction whenever I feel like someone is trying to compel me to act in a way they judge to be right.

What follows are a list of possible reasons why I may not speak publicly about a given issue. It is not addressed to the situation in Gaza particularly, because I intend this to be a general statement. One or more may apply to my thinking on any given issue.

  1. I have no ability to change the situation and no amount of talking on my part will ever reach the ears of those who do. There is currently an ongoing effort to remove protections from wetlands in Indiana to make way for real estate developers. I called last week to inform my state senator that I wished for him to vote against further deregulation. When I called the number, I was sent to a statehouse call center—not even my senator’s office. My name and number and address and preference were noted in a database. How influential do you think that statistic in the database will be on my conservative state senator, who has sold his soul to the energy companies? Do you think if I talked to him face to face it would change his vote? What if I started yelling outside his office? And this is on the state level. Do you really think anything I say—in any way I choose to say it—will change policy on a national and international level? There have been few larger protests in world history than the 2020 BLM protests. And I took part in two of those, one of which was in my hometown at which we were surrounded by armed and angry counter-protestors. And what came of all that? Privileged office workers like me got Juneteenth off work. You can’t, at the same time, believe both that the government is corrupt and that citizen protest alters government policy.
  2. I may not have enough information. I am neither a pragmatist nor a centrist. I am, and have been for a number of years now, a leftist and an idealist. At the same time, I have lived long enough to know that complex situations cannot be simplified by force of will. I do not say this as a mealy-mouthed centrist who wants to support the status quo through acquiescence. I say this as someone who has run enthusiastically into political fights and later found out the situation was not as clear as it seemed to me at the time. Which leads me to…
  3. I do not want to add to the current asinine, brain-dead polarization. I have been politically aware since the Clinton administration and the impulse to immediately and unwaveringly and irreversibly choose sides has never been this strong. A new issue arises and within 30 minutes the teams have been chosen on Twitter and we’re all supposed to go along with this idiocy. No thanks. I will exercise my judgement as best I can—and that includes judging whether I need to have a position on an issue and whether I need to speak about it publicly.
  4. I completely reject the idea that if I do not condemn situation X then I am complicit in it. To say that I’m complicit in some horrible events on the other side of the world because I’m not saying something about it on my hilariously, inconceivably uninfluential blog is nonsense. Am I also complicit in—oh let’s pick something at random—Amazon’s horrible labor practices because I’m not constantly talking about them? What about the genocide that is surely happening somewhere else in the world at this very minute? I could keep giving examples. There is always something horrible happening. Occasionally there is something especially horrible happening. Sometimes mini-apocalypses are happening and no one in America has ever even heard of them. Am I seriously complicit in all of these things? Nonsense. There isn’t enough time in the day to keep up with all the horrible news in order to ensure that I make a post listing All the Terrible Things I Am Condemning Today. Which leads me to…
  5. I have other things I am called to do. I am a husband and father. I am the son of an aging mother who needs more help all the time. I have a full-time job that keeps me busy and people for which I bear some responsibility. I am a gardener who is trying in some small way to make something welcoming to the forms of life on my city lot and, in this way, fight against the rolling environmental crises. I am a person who is sometimes genuinely afraid of the future and sometimes tries to make something—a poem, a post, a handmade book, a useful object made of wood—that makes the world a tiny bit more beautiful. I have plenty to do, sometimes too much. I am like a tree planted in a certain place, under certain conditions. Those factors ensure I grow in certain ways. I cannot be what you want me to be; I must grow and produce fruit according to my own nature. Which leads me to…
  6. I am a grown-ass man. I am judged before the tribunal of my own conscience, not anyone else’s. I have lived my life in as ethical way as I can. I have made hard decisions and had hard conversations. I have forgone opportunities because they conflicted with the way I wanted to live my life. No one will ever be harder on me than I am myself. I am 47 years old and I will not be ordered or compelled or guilted into doing anything anyone else says I must do. I have certain things that I have prioritized in my life and those priorities will decide what I will do on a day-to-day basis. That’s it. You might just have to assume—stay with me here—that I am not a reprobate who supports The Terrible Thing.

The world, it seems, is full and overflowing with events, any one of which would have seemed world-historical in any other age. On some days, it feels like a feat to face the day without falling apart. Most of us are small creatures attempting to live our lives with something like responsibility and peacefulness. We are also subject to powers and their servants, over whom we have no control. Those powers do not deserve and must not have our allegiance.

But for each other, we must have some grace. We are, many of us, doing what it is ours to do—or at least trying to figure it out. Let’s assume the best of each other, until we are given sufficient evidence otherwise. Let’s not make enemies of each other.

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