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Wednesday, 10 October 2018 06:44

Being a Light in the Post-Kavanaugh Darkness

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Light 1010wrp(Photo: zphaze / Flickr)


It's actually a very small gesture, but it was one that I thought made a lot of sense and that would carry me through the days, and years to come.  I decided to get a tattoo a few days before the Senate Judiciary Committee vote on Kavanaugh, as I saw hopes of justice fade. 

So now, on my left forearm, there is a tattoo that reads "Fiat Lux," which means, "Let There Be Light."  It comes from the Bible, Genesis 1:3 -- "And God said, 'Let there be light,' and there was light.  And God seeing that light was good, God separated the light from the darkness."  It is also the motto of the University of California, where I was educated.  In that context it refers to something like an Enlightenment principle -- that education can illuminate the world for us and lend us understanding.  It is also an expression that supporters of victims of sexual violence have used. 

Kavanaugh's confirmation -- despite credible testimony of his sexual violence and numerous cases of perjury -- ushers in an extremely dark period in US history.  The FBI investigation--that was supposed to shed light on the accusations and rebuttals of two individuals with diametrically opposed versions of the truth--was rushed, constrained, and made extremely narrow by the White House.

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Key people who said they had close knowledge of the candidate and evidence to prove it were not interviewed by the FBI.  In an effort to reach the eyes and ears of the senators who would decide on Kavanaugh's fitness for office, thousands of lawyers, the American Bar Association, church groups, survivors' rights groups, Yale graduates, the Dean of the Yale Law School, and even a former Supreme Court Justice nominated by a Republican president advised against Kavanaugh's confirmation.  Their reasons went far beyond the alleged sexual violence -- they focused on Kavanaugh's behavior and his evasions upon even being questioned.

This evidence was plain to see for anyone who had access to the Internet or a television.  His partisan bias, his contempt for due process, and his antagonism toward women were all patently clear, as was his inability to control his temper, even to save his own cause. Yet all that was plain to see was buried under a deeply flawed process and spun into lies.  Darkness, darkness, darkness.  Not light. And the darkness is spreading.

Donald Trump has adopted Ronald Reagan's tactic of infusing our core institutions with people who bear animus toward those very institutions. Trump seeks to destroy from within.  Regulatory agencies are now led by people who despise regulation.  The protection of the environment has been given over to someone who hates the environment -- he sees it simply as something else to be monetized.

The Secretary of the Department of Education is a for-profit "educator" who likewise sees students as customers and teachers as workers to be bullied and intimidated into teaching the lesson plans she decrees to be "useful."   And now the scales of justice will be balanced by an intemperate perjurer and an alleged sexual harasser. The rot starts at the core and works its way out.

Any attempt to shine a light into those depths -- to cut through the obfuscation and sophistry--is met with violence and contempt.  When confronted by protesters who screamed to be heard, demanded to remind senators that Kavanaugh had lied to them and to the world sequentially, they were told to "grow up" by Senator Orin Hatch.

What he means of course is that they, and we, accept the bitter and cynical and dark version of the world that this administration has produced and maintained.  To give up "youthful" idealism.  But in his famous essay, "What is Enlightenment," Immanuel Kant had a very different notion of youth and maturity.  He told people to stop being children, youths, in following the marching orders of authority -- the church and the state. 

Kant believed that "adulthood" meant exerting one's own critical and rational capacities to ascertain for oneself what was true.  In this case, Enlightenment means standing up for oneself and not bowing to power. Not accepting the idea that darkness is light, that there are "alternate facts," and that, according to the President's lawyer, there is no such thing as the truth.

My greatest fear is that children growing up today will accept the horrible dark, un-Enlightened frame that is now in place as the norm. This norm says that mendacity from the mouths of some people is excusable, that cruelty at the expense of others is comic, that critical thinking itself is inconsequential.

The fact that thousands protested, agitated, and led the way in civil disobedience, and lent their voices of rage and indignation to each other gives me hope.  But the most important kind of hope lies not in sporadic marches and protests.  It comes back to the idea that we carry goodness and the hunger for justice inside us, and that in so doing -- in acting as if decency, goodness, empathy, mattered to us -- we give support to those who feel the same.  We need to embody, especially in times of crisis but also and importantly in every day encounters and instances, those things that are part of the world we wish to retain and nurture, and not let be submerged in darkness. In that we repudiate the inevitability of darkness and carry light with us.

Aidan Hill writes in UC Berkeley's student newspaper,The Daily Cal, a passage worth quoting at length: 

… now more than ever we must take to the streets and demand justice for all survivors regardless of how they identify. As the founder of the #MeToo movement Tarana Burke states, it's time for us to show up "in person with our feet to the streets to say we won't be treated this way and we won't stand for another survivor to be treated this way." The time is now to declare that we, especially students, are not put on this earth for anyone's consumption, entertainment or impregnation; we are here to learn how to love ourselves.

Fellow students of UC Berkeley, please do not forget that while they have guns, we have flowers -- and through the concrete, we will bloom. Our greatest strength is our community. From People's Park to the Lawrence Hall of Science, for 150 years Berkeley has pioneered a way forward, bringing the hard light of knowledge and resistance to our world. Citizens of Berkeley, the time is now to remember our history and resistance. We must remember that the fight for free speech was a fight for silence breakers demanding to be heard. And we are not going back into the silence. Fiat Lux.

This piece originally appeared on NewBlackMan (in Exile)