IMAGINE THE UNIMAGINABLE: an exhortation

IMAGINE THE UNIMAGINABLE:  an exhortation

by Ed Valentine

www.edvalentine.com

Twitter: @eddyval

 

In the following, I confront some harsh realities – but I also follow them up with some practical steps we all can take to fight against what’s happening in America today. Buckle up.

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1.

If you’re not inclined towards cruelty, it can be hard to imagine that other people are so inclined.

This creates a blind spot. You can end up excusing, explaining, justifying acts you would never commit yourself, mostly because you simply can’t believe that someone would really do things that you yourself cannot dream of undertaking.

This denial, this blindness, can persist for weeks, months, years – even lifetimes. It can be passed down from generation to generation.

Meanwhile, the people who are inclined to cruelty keep doing what they do – and their cruelty keeps escalating, partly because more tender-hearted people didn’t stop cruelty early on.

This failure to stop evil isn’t just a lack of will, though it is partly that. I maintain that failure is really a failure of imagination.

Again: if you can’t believe that the human heart is capable of such cruelty – or if you don’t want to believe it, despite ample evidence throughout history, all across the globe, that people can and do commit unspeakable acts… well, then your worldview just won’t encompass what your mind can’t conceive.

So you just don’t imagine it could happen.

 

2.

In my work as a playwright, I’ve tried to understand why people do terrible things. I’ve tried to imagine what I, personally, would otherwise find unthinkable. I’ve tried to figure out how people who do awful things live with themselves, and whether or not they can be redeemed, changed, or healed.

In my work as a children’s writer, I’ve tried to imagine a better world than the one we live in, and I’ve tried, as often as I can, to point a way to that better world. To present a world where kids can grow up less afraid, more tolerant, happier, more joyful, more whole.

All writing is a work of imagination springing from some underlying reality. And writers have to confront hard truths and imagine the unimaginable.

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You know who else has a great imagination? Anyone inclined to inflict damage and cruelty on others: Sociopaths. Career criminals. Mobsters. Murderers. They have great (meaning ‘awesomely terrifying’) imaginations, and they can conceive of evils big, complex, and deadly.

What’s more, these damaged and damaging human beings don’t have the blind spot the rest of us have. They don’t harbor any illusion that cruelty doesn’t exist – how could they? They know it’s there. They see it in themselves. They relish and indulge it – and in turn, they foster cruelty in others. Nurturing it by example, egging it on.

And they also see something else: they see that some other people don’t see true cruelty. They see that some of us don’t recognize, or are too late to recognize, that there’s evil out there, and that there really are evil people who do really evil things.

They depend on those blind spots to give cover to their acts. They know that our blind spots will make us reluctant to call out – or incapable of calling out – evil. Or even naming it for what it is.

That’s why blind spots are so dangerous when you’re driving, after all: you just… can’t… see part of the road, so you don’t see what’s speeding towards you. What’s coming up behind you on the passenger side – a truck? A motorcycle? A drunk driver? You never imagined it coming at you, so you ignore the possibility that it’s there until it’s too late.

That’s human. It’s hard to imagine what you’re not able to see.

 

3.

That’s why I say this to us all, as readers, thinkers, citizens, voters, journalists:

We now need to develop a greater – more encompassing – and indeed more vividly upsetting – imagination.

This week, it’s three years since Trump came down that escalator to a crowd – a crowd in which a number of actors were paid to play avid Trump supporters. He declared his candidacy by calling immigrants rapists and murderers.

Next month marks two years since the GOP convention, with “I alone can fix it.”

It’s a year and a half since his inauguration, when he talked of immigration again, linking deaths in the streets to gangs coming across the border. Said he could bring law and order to stop this “American Carnage.”

That was supposed to be just rhetoric, and we were told to take him “seriously, not literally.” We were told he was all talk. That he was a blustering fool, a clown, a buffoon.

We were assured that laws, norms, standards, and wiser, cooler-headed, more experienced politicians and aides would stop him from acting on his worst impulses.

They were just words, we were told. He didn’t mean anything by them. He just… SAYS stuff, you know? For effect. 

 

4.

Now his racist, nativist rhetoric has turned into racist, nativist action.

His cruel talk has manifested as actual, physical acts of cruelty.

Now we’re halfway into the second year of his ill-gotten administration. Now he’s ripping small children away from their parents, locking them in cages, and telling us baldfaced lies about why that’s happening and who’s to blame.

Children alone, in tents. Outdoors. In the summer heat.

Terrified children, separated from their parents, detained in camps. And let’s call them what they are, according to Merriam-Webster: “concentration camps.”

Merriam-Webster:

CONCENTRATION CAMP: a camp where persons (such as prisoners of war, political prisoners, or refugees) are detained or confined

If you couldn’t imagine someone was capable of such cruelty in 2016, well… maybe cruelty in others was one of your blind spots.

But by now – after all that’s been said, after all that’s happened, after all that’s happening this very moment – we have enough evidence to see that what’s “unthinkable” to us has been thought up by someone else. Not just thought up: thought through. Planned out. Put into place.

What’s unthinkable to you is someone else’s action list. Their five-year plan.

 

5.

So it’s time to develop a bigger imagination.

And by “bigger imagination,” I mean a more encompassing worldview – one that acknowledges that there are people in our midst who are capable of great evil. A worldview that at least entertains the possibility that Trump is one of those people.

I urge us all to develop an imagination that, at the very least, allows us to contemplate that this man and the people around him are capable of cruelty on a grand scale, are willing to escalate it, are willing to lie about it – and are not afraid of any consequences.

If we’re taking infants and toddlers away from their parents and caging them in June of 2018 – and we are – what will we be doing next month – in July?

December?

Next June?

How about November 2020, before the next Presidential election?

The election of 2024? Where are we then? What is Trump doing at that point?

All evidence shows that cruelty, unchecked, escalates.

 

6.

Case in point, regarding escalation: a few weeks ago, he called immigrants “animals.” A round of pearl-clutching commenced, in which pundits dithered over whether he meant *all* immigrants, or just MS-13 gang members. (As if that distinction matters. Dehumanizing language is intended to dehumanize.)

His language – his conception of the world – has now manifested into an actuality.

After all, what do you do with animals? You cage them.

He’s caging migrant children, having taken them from their parents.

So we might stop for a moment to consider Trump’s words today:

“Democrats are the problem. They don’t care about crime and want illegal immigrants, no matter how bad they may be, to pour into and infest our Country, like MS-13.”

We need to, at the very least, contemplate how his words will manifest themselves in the future – maybe the next few days, weeks, or months.

After all, one is “infested” by vermin, by insects, by pestilence. By disease.

That’s what he’s saying: immigrants are vermin. Insects. Pestilence. Disease. Those are his words. That’s what he’s thinking, and he’s not hiding it.

And once you put yourself in his mindset, once you accept that framing… well, there’s only one conclusion he seems to be reaching, isn’t there?

What does he want to do with what he calls an “infestation”? Exterminate it? Eradicate it? Wipe it out totally? Cleanse it to leave the rest of the body healthy?

That seems to be the logical conclusion of his line of thinking.

 

7.

“Oh,” you might say, “Extermination? That would be terrible! Unthinkable! I can’t imagine he’d do that – that they’ll let him do that.” (Whoever “they” might be.)

Consider: what’s already happening is terrible, and was “unthinkable” – unimaginable – a couple of weeks ago. (Reminder: Concentration camps. For children. In Texas. In 2018.)

Does it comfort you to tell yourself that maybe it won’t come to something darker? Maybe he won’t get that far?

And sure, okay. Maybe he won’t get that far. Maybe he would never.

Or maybe he won’t, if only we stop him first.

But then… can you honestly say this isn’t where he’s going? Extermination. Elimination. On a mass scale.

No? Too hard to imagine?

But… should we consider it? Should we take him seriously AND literally?

Should we consider that he just… might… mean it? That to him, immigrants are vermin? With all that entails?

Words are important to me. I maintain that words have meaning, and I’m aware of how they can used truth – and also how they can obscure facts.  And how sometimes, they reveal more truth than the speaker intends.

Wouldn’t it be irresponsible to refuse to consider that he knows exactly what he’s saying, and means exactly what he says? That he chose those words for a reason? And that they reveal a dark and destructive urge?

 

8.

If you haven’t already, it’s time to start imagining he’s capable of terrible things that you yourself wouldn’t do.

We all need to envision acts of cruelty worse than the ones happening now.

We need to acknowledge that such cruelty is possible – history and experiences show us, without a doubt, that it is.

And if you’re in any doubt, it’s time to contemplate that maybe Trump is capable of horrors beyond what we’re comfortable saying aloud in polite society.

He’s not uncomfortable saying these things aloud. And he’s transforming words into action. The unimaginable is already becoming reality.

 

9.

The trick is to contemplate horrors without being paralyzed by horror. More than ever, we have to see the world clearly, even if it’s terrifying…

…but we also need to use that clarity AND that fear to spur us into action.

In the meantime, we as a people need to do whatever we can to oppose him.

  • Speak out. Here, there, everywhere. Twitter, Facebook, blog posts, family dinners. Speak out loudly.

 

  • Speak clearly, in unambiguous terms. Call a lie “a lie,” call concentration camps “concentration camps,” call a racist “a racist.” People with evil intent depend on others to be too polite to point it out.

 

  • Vote. Vote for people who oppose Trump and his compliant GOP. In every election. At every level, not just the Presidential elections. Oppose the GOP whenever they’re on the ballot, from dogcatcher to Senator. https://www.usa.gov/register-to-vote

 

 

 

 

That’s what you – what WE – can do, for starters.

 

10.

I didn’t write this post to frighten you. No, I wrote it to embolden us all (myself included) to consider how bad things could get, and take concrete action to stop the situation from getting that bad.

Because acknowledging the possibility of the worst also allows us to imagine its opposite, as well: to envision a world that’s better than we find it to be – a place so good that we strive mightily to make it that way.

So by all means, imagine clearly but boldly. Let your thoughts translate into action as you imagine a better world, and work to make that world a reality.

But while you’re doing that… don’t neglect to imagine the worst. And work, work hard, to make sure the worst doesn’t come to pass.

The danger is great. The choice is stark. The time is now: Today.

Imagine what you previously thought was unimaginable, and work to make sure it doesn’t become a reality. For the good of all of us.

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