Saturday, August 22, 2020

Quote of the Day (Sarah Kendzior, on the Urgent Need to ‘Be Your Own Light’ Now)

“Write down what you value; what standards you hold for yourself and for others. Write about your dreams for the future and your hopes for your children. Write about the struggle of your ancestors and how the hardship they overcame shaped the person you are today. Write your biography, write down your memories. Because if you do not do it now, you may forget. Write a list of things you would never do. Because it is possible that in the next year, you will do them. Write a list of things you would never believe. Because it is possible that in the next year, you will either believe them or be forced to say you believe them.”— Anthropologist and journalist Sarah Kendzior, “We’re Heading Into Dark Times: This is How to be Your Own Light in the Age of Trump,” The Correspondent, Nov. 18, 2016

Four years ago, as has happened so often in the past, this warning might have seemed alarmist. But anyone following the news runs the danger of becoming inured to the nightmare scenario outlined in the last four sentences in the above quote.

What is at stake is nothing less than the same values of civilization held up in Pericles’ “Funeral Oration” to his fellow Athenians, according to Greek historian Thucydides’ Peloponnesian War:

“Our constitution does not copy the laws of neighboring states; we are rather a pattern to others than imitators ourselves. Its administration favors the many instead of the few; this is why it is called a democracy. If we look to the laws, they afford equal justice to all in their private differences; if no social standing, advancement in public life falls to reputation for capacity, class considerations not being allowed to interfere with merit; nor again does poverty bar the way, if a man is able to serve the state, he is not hindered by the obscurity of his condition. The freedom which we enjoy in our government extends also to our ordinary life. There, far from exercising a jealous surveillance over each other, we do not feel called upon to be angry with our neighbor for doing what he likes, or even to indulge in those injurious looks which cannot fail to be offensive, although they inflict no positive penalty. But all this ease in our private relations does not make us lawless as citizens. Against this fear is our chief safeguard, teaching us to obey the magistrates and the laws, particularly such as regard the protection of the injured, whether they are actually on the statute book, or belong to that code which, although unwritten, yet cannot be broken without acknowledged disgrace.”

Each day brings another assault against what Pericles called “our chief safeguard.” After four years, none of us can say any longer that we do not know the threats we face: nothing less than the protection of the individual citizen, even the most disadvantaged, from harm; the notion that no man is above the law; and the fate of the republican experiment itself.

Democratic Athens did not endure. We shall see, over the next few months, if democratic America will.

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