Content Warning: discussions of abuse (non-specific), modern US politics, abortion.
As I’ve recovered from the initial shock and outpouring of energy that result from the various draconian rulings by the highest court in the Judicial branch of the US government, I’ve bounced from exhausted and burned-out out to grimly determined to do something. Sometimes going from one to the other multiple times in a single day. Still, during all that time, I’ve been working to turn this activity from a reactive, spite-based surge of energy followed by total exhaustion into a more sustainable form. I’ve been making lists, doing research, educating myself, and reaching out to people I care about to prepare them for the potential futures we might run into. For now, that mostly means making sure they all have an end-to-end encrypted chat app on their phone with the proper level of security and that they have the resources they need to learn about proper data security in the modern era. But I am keeping on eye on how things are going and quietly preparing myself for a whole range of potential outcomes. That’s what I do, after all. I prepare.
I don’t know if I’ve ever written about this on my blog, or even if I’ve mentioned it to anyone ever (I tend to keep my most alarmist and anxious worries about the future to myself), but the serial story I posted in 2018 and will be reposting starting in August, Coldheart and Iron, is based on a dream I had a couple days after The Orange Menace announced he was running for president by saying a lot of shit that should have immediately disqualified him. Now, I don’t think that the whole world is going to be plunged into an unceasing winter populated by robot-alien monsters intent on destroying all of Humanity as a result of this egregious bullshit that wound up president, but I did expect things to go incredibly bad. Which they have gone. Mostly because they were already on a trajectory to this point, but back then it seemed like only a few people outside of the focused activist spheres saw it for what it was.
I don’t claim any special precognitive ability and I definitely wasn’t closely tied to the activist spheres back then. I’ve started getting more involved since then, but back then I was living pretty comfortably in my privilege. What I do have an abundance of, though, is pattern recognition and the ability to anticipate action-and-reaction style events on a macro level. Once upon a time, I would not have called this a special skill, but the summer of 2015 made it clear that I could see things in a way that many people around me could not. Or maybe they simply refused to, because they didn’t want to confront the fact that horrible things can actually happen to people like them.
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There’s this idea that comes up in a lot of psychology and sociology, that when people talk about unlikely and horrible things, there’s a part of them that stubbornly insists that stuff like that could never happen to them. That disasters only happen to other people. That they must have been seeing things because they’re just some person and “just some person” type people never see someone being abused or attacked or mugged or raped or killed. That stuff happens to other people, so surely they must be misunderstanding what they saw. One of the things I like to say to people who don’t understand trauma and the way it impacts your sense of self and the way you live your life from then onward is that surviving something means you’ve become someone things happen to.
I get a lot of uncomfortable responses to that. A lot of people tend to respond as if I’ve just said that being a survivor means making yourself a victim constantly. Some people who are also survivors respond the same way, acting if I’ve implied that being a survivor means constantly “playing the victim card” when really what I should do is just take responsibility for my actions or feelings and tough it out. What I really mean, though, and don’t usually get to say because I get too exhausted walking people back from this reaction, is that the abstract idea that bad stuff happens to other people vanishes. You’ve become the person that bad stuff happened to. Not all bad stuff, you’ve not suddenly become a magnet for all the bad luck in the world, but you no longer operate under the illusion that bad things could never happen to you.
After all, the idea that lightning never strikes the same place twice is entirely false. It tends to strike the same place many times, because if the conditions were right once and nothing changed, then the conditions are still right. Once you’ve been victimized, it is usually easier for you to become a victim again. Abusers and assaulters will frequently return to their victims if nothing is done to punish them for their abuse or assault. Predators will almost always return to a place they’ve had success in the past. It takes a lot of work to break away from these cycles and, frequently, all you can do is get yourself away. It takes a lot more work, and usually a lot of other people, to finally stop a predator or abuser.
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I would have thought the trauma of the Orange Menace and the pandemic would have disabused people of the idea that bad stuff won’t happen to them, but I feel like it has just made them capable of more cognitive dissonance before they break. Everyone’s risk assessment for doing something like going out to dinner focuses on the low percent chance that they will get hospitalized due to Covid-19 and then ignores everything else. Such as their risk of getting Long Covid, of side-effects due to getting sick, of passing the virus on to a vulnerable person, and how various factors can raise or lower their risk like wearing a properly fitted mask while indoors, like being vaccinated and boosted, like choosing to stay isolated during high infection periods, and so on. It is a complex system that most people want to ignore because it takes a lot of effort to consider all of this and it is incredibly easy to convince yourself that you’re not going to be a part of the small percentage of people who are vaccinated and boosted that still get hospitalized and die because the vaccine isn’t perfect or all-powerful.
Social issues are a lot like that. People want to find exceptions and reasons the alarming reality doesn’t apply to them or to the truly dangerous scenarios other people are describing. You can see it happening right now, as people all over say that the bans on abortions in various states wouldn’t stop the “medically necessary” versions of the procedure or that they wouldn’t get in the way of keeping someone alive since clearly the laws are only meant to stop the “abortion as birth control” people. All of which is clearly bullshit if you’ve spent any time actually reading the laws or listening to what the people supporting those laws are saying now that they think they’ve won. Most people are coming to this fight late, still brushing sand and dirt out of their hair now that they’ve finally pulled their head out of the hole they stuck it in so they could pretend things were fine for a little while longer. They’re woefully behind and still don’t recognize that, with these sweeping, horrible decisions, we’ve all become victims of a power-hungry regimine of pro-death wanna-be autocrats.
None of this is going to change fast. I wish it would, but there are so many steps to dismantling these awful power structures that, even if we had a clear plan to follow and everyone we needed was on board, it would still take years to enact against the efforts of those who want to retain their power. We don’t have any of that, so the going will be even more slow because we’re going to need to collectively figure it out as we go along. Get people up to speed, rehash the same arguments over and over again as we all work our way toward getting everyone the same rights that wealthy white men have, deal with people attempting to sow division amongst us, and even dealing with division as it arises. It is going to take a lot of work and we need to stay focused on the long-view. It took those assholes fifty years of work to get to this point and they’re not going anywhere quickly.
It takes a lot of effort to adopt and stay focused on the long view in a way that doesn’t sacrifice the present for the future, but it’s worth it. People are already doing that work, some have already done it. We just need to identify them, empower them, and line up to fight along side them.