your life is more powerful than you think

“Resistance is not only about battling the forces of darkness. It is about becoming a whole and complete human being. It is about overcoming estrangement. It is about the capacity to love. It is about honoring the sacred. It is about dignity. It is about sacrifice. It is about courage. It is about being free. Resistance is the pinnacle of human existence.”

Chris Hedges

 

Looking at the magnitude our modern predicament, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed and powerless. When we compare our personal ability to effect change with the inertia of the status quo, our voices sometimes feel inconsequential. We vote, sign petitions and call our elected representative, but nothing seems to change. Even our best efforts often feel irrelevant and meaningless.

Perhaps a metaphor will help. In 1962, philosopher Thomas Kuhn wrote The Structure of Scientific Revolutions. At the time, most people thought of scientific progress simply as the accumulation of knowledge, a process in which new evidence builds on established structure, brick by brick, fact by fact. In contrast, Kuhn argued for an episodic model in which periods of continuity are interrupted by periods of revolutionary discovery and re-imagining. 

The process begins with the appearance of minor, inconvenient anomalies that seem to contradict the status quo. At the outset, countervailing evidence goes largely ignored and is even ridiculed, but over time, the weight accumulates, leading eventually to a sudden and dramatic shift in thinking. For Kuhn, this is precisely what played out in the Copernican revolution, beginning in 1543. When Copernicus first proposed a heliocentric solar system, the evidence was actually rather weak and few people embraced his views. It was only later, when Galileo filled in gaps in the model, that it took on the power to overthrow the existing paradigm.

In essence, Kuhn argued that the process of scientific transformation operates like an enormous balance scale. A scientist or activist adds a contradictory idea to one side of the scale, but nothing seems to happen. People add more evidence and more activism and still nothing happens. The process continues for some time and during this period, the scientist–activist may well conclude that his efforts are having no effect.

But the grains of sand add up and shifts do come, sometimes faster than anticipated. In 1991, the former Soviet Union collapsed almost overnight under the weight of its own incompetence. In 2015, same-sex marriage reached a sudden tipping point of popular acceptance. Similarly, mass acceptance of the reality of climate change appears to be taking hold. For years, scientific evidence poured in with no apparent change in public opinion, but today, only the most committed delusionaries reject the reality of climate change.

All of this should give us a sense of possibility. The grain of sand you drop on the scale may look and feel invisible today, but it is not nothing. You may not see the effect, even in your lifetime. But the scale will move as people add their acts of effort and courage. Sooner or later, the paradigm will shift, and the shift may be bigger, faster, and more significant than you think.

In the end, it’s all about the doing. Times are hard and the odds are long. Conditions are overwhelming and our biosphere is in mortal danger. But for the activist, the odds are always long. Risk is inevitable, and the chance of failure is substantial. But there’s meaning and health in fighting. The effort is sacred.

 

Frank Forencich