In my last post, Strange New Worlds, I wrote about the vastness of space and how “no man-made wall has ever proven so completely, so perfectly impenetrable as insurmountable distance. Nothing has proven our absolute ineptitude quite like the unconquerable vastness of time and space.” I tried to capture that strange sense of not knowing—that intangible, yet overwhelming feeling of the unknown and its immensity. Perhaps I ended things a bit cold for the reader, it’s not exactly comforting to meditate on one’s smallness in the context of the whole universe. But there is one more thing about space in all its vastness that I did not mention: its open. The secrets of the universe are all there, everywhere, hidden in plain sight.
I look to the stars with great hope, excited by all the possibilities surrounding us. Every dot of light a testament to a unique existence, a flame to every dream, a hint of the unimaginable, a terra incognita always out there, just out of reach, something always to be explored, limitless and open. If we could only solve the riddle, crack the code, decipher the language to read this open book—this book of everything.
Yet the pages always seem to get overwritten by our assumptions. We fight among ourselves about whose assumption gets to dominate. We cannot achieve any progress if we do not become more aware of this. We must work together to help each other, leaving no one out. This may seem incredibly idealistic, even simplistic, when we cannot even come to an agreement about who we are: Are we good? Are we bad? Are we animals or higher beings? If we are animals, are we sheep or wolves? Ants meant to live in well-organized colonies? Or sharks: lone hunters in it for ourselves? If we are meant to be with the angels: What separates the saints and sinners; the redeemable and the hopeless?
If we are none of these, then what makes us truly significant?
Any meanings we interpret are more a reflection of who we are, how we see ourselves, than a definite, absolute truth about the world. And yet, we know the truth is out there (sorry X-files fans), though failure to attain it should not deter our aspirations, it should spur us onwards. They say beauty is truth, truth is beauty. What is a life without it?
Perhaps it is like a cycle, every generation circling around the truth, chipping away at it, like sculptors under a marble dome. We intend cut into the dome to finally see a glimpse of the sky, but as we chip away at it, we begin to see a pattern, a grand pattern to everything. We stop hacking and begin to reproduce this pattern onto the shell of the dome itself. We then paint it, embellish it, laud it as “art”. The next generation looks up at our work first with admiration, then rejection, as they begin noticing the flaws and gaps in our grand scheme. They go up to chip away at the dome themselves, until they too see a pattern of their own. And so it goes. In this scenario, the dome would become thinner and thinner with time, progress would be linear. But we know this does not always happen. Many great civilizations have risen and fallen, their vast knowledge—legacies lost, new Stone Ages over their ashes and remains. I hope for our great civilization that this will not be the case, though many forces of fear actively work towards its destruction.
So why do I still look up with great hope and optimism?
I may rage at the injustice in the world: ignorance, racism, casual cruelty, prejudice and groundless assumption, and yet, hatred is its own punishment. That fearful, angry person who believes he or his tribe is under attack, suffers the high anxiety of this unstable emotional state. What do I know of justice when I can only see a glimpse of a life? Always seeing a straight horizon and believing the Earth to be flat. I have known enough violence and crudeness in my life than to put all my faith in the good in people, yet I find it hard to believe that people are by nature bad. We are all so similar and yet so different. Many compassionate people strive to believe our diversity is our “superpower”, that love conquers fear and hate, I wish for that as well.
Yet there is only one superpower that I am truly convinced of, it has been so thoroughly, so devastatingly well-proven: Humans are extremely good at finding weakness and exploiting it for their own advantage. But I no longer rail against this, I do not fear it. I do not strive to quell it, keep it under wraps. The world is not a nursery school or a Disneyland, it can be brutal, unfair, cold. I was born in an unfair world and will most likely die in one. I do not strive to hide my children from this world but give them the strength and tools to disempower aggressors.
This superpower that we have: finding weakness and exploiting it, we all have it in common, as sure as our DNA. Let’s not hide it anymore. Let’s redirect it. Instead of acting like cowards by targeting the people who have less than us, people who have no voice: the poor and the outsiders, let’s redirect our superpower to fighting the real danger: dictators, fascists and leaders who support hatred and prejudice. Let’s use our superpower to exploit the weakness behind the propaganda, the flaws in the racist ideologies, the gaps in the anti-immigrant rhetoric, the poor justification of wrong-doings, the fear masquerading around as arrogance and entitlement. Let’s use our incredible superpower for good, to support our mutual humanity and the progress for equality, democracy, human rights—so hard-fought, so hard-won.
In Germany, the place where I live, at this very moment, the anti-immigrant party AfD (Alternative für Deutschland) is poised to gain seats in the Bundestag, our German parliament (source). Although Angela Merkel is expected to retain her power, it is very disheartening to see a populist party that plainly describes immigrants as “inferiors” would gain political power and possibly influence the course of the country. They are gaining in power because they have successfully tapped into people’s fears. Modern fears that have a tantalizing thread of legitimacy: fear of terrorism, fear of fundamentalist Islam, fear of a loss in national identity, fear of disappearance or being made irrelevant. The AfD recently came out with a successful ad campaign exploiting this fear: An image of a group of women wearing Burkas with the message “Islamisierung Stoppen”, “stop the spread of Islam”. “In an offensive poke at the fact Muslims don’t eat pork, there is the picture of a piglet under the provocative slogan: “Islam? It doesn’t fit in with our cuisine.””(Skynews, source) They repeatedly argue on TV and on their banners that there is a correlation in the rise of immigration with incidences of rape and terrorism. Sounds familiar? Most likely, you have encountered this kind of rhetoric where you live as well.
Using populism to stop terrorism is like dropping an atom bomb on a terrorist cell, sure you will kill the target, but everyone else, everything else, everything that democracy stands for will be blown to bits as well. And guess what? Rape, violence, murder, terrorism are still wrong and illegal whether immigrants have anything to do with them or not. They are still wrong, regardless of the race, nationality or religion of the perpetrator. The only thing that would make these bad things acceptable would be if the laws were changed by the politicians we put in power to supposedly “safeguard” us. Hitler is a prime example, his Nazi party rose to power claiming to protect the Germans against the Jewish “threat”. By the way, he killed more than 5 million Germans in doing this “protecting” (source). It is extremely ironic to see people wanting to “save their race from extinction” holding up swastikas, the symbols of one of the biggest killers of that race of all time.
No one wants to see anyone or anything they hold dear being threatened, but it’s time that we realized where the real threats to our way of life are coming from. They are not coming from defenseless refugees and immigrants. Helping someone in need uplifts everyone, diversity enriches us, broadens our horizons and knowledge. It is not always easy to live in an inclusive society, it is a work in progress and we will always have to fight to retain our safety and our human rights, but the answer is not in relinquishing our freedom. The answer is not in isolating ourselves and going backwards. It is not in feeding our fears and our prejudices. The answer is there and has always been there in each of us. You know what I mean. It’s time to let out that light.
Text and images by M.P. Baecker