Somewhere in the middle of NaNo, I slipped up and abruptly halted. I slipped up by letting the world get to me. I got into a funk, had this specific essay in mind, and had a sizable creative block about writing it. Not my usual M.O..
In the middle of November 2015, you might remember, there were mass killings in Paris. Then I learned there were mass killings in Lebanon. Before Paris.
It’s bad enough to have to rerealize there are mass murderers for ideology in the world, then having to confront the fact that media coverage is incredibly selective about which mass casualties are worth covering. And not as an isolated incident. As a pattern that has been repeated especially often in the past few months. Brussels or Ankara? On and on. (Lahore is a bit of an aberration, but perhaps not, because it was quickly disclosed that the Taliban had intended to target Christians. I suspect some were secretly delighted that the targeting went “awry” and the publicity would be mixed for the Taliban. Another species of Daesh.)
I lost my temper over that. Specifically the day I learned of killings in Ankara, yet days after, because of the selective coverage, it finally boiled over into an angry rant. I won’t repost it. Someone kindly talked me out of my rage.
There have been a few editorials bemoaning the lack of solidarity with Ankara but, surreally, that’s the most coverage I have seen this side of the world. The lopsidedness of it continues still. There are still terrorist incidents around the world, and they’re still selectively covered. The primaries are going on in the U.S., and that takes a tremendous share of time and energy, but still? When there’s a clear bias going on, and it smacks of intolerance, it’s time to call it. So I’m calling it, partly as racist bullshit, partly as Christian hegemony in the U.S. and its traditional marriage with Islamophobia.
And that right there would be enough to say for one essay (only the start of the work on that, but plenty of a topic), except there’s more that I needed to say. I’d been questioning why I bother trying most weeks to improve anything at all. Not seriously. Just a kind of dejection of the fatigued. In any event, losing my temper jarred enough loose that I can begin to write this. At last.
What does the phrase “fighting the good fight” mean to you?
My history with it and how I encountered it colored my understanding of it. For the better, I think. It means a lot to me. It’s my way of motivating myself to do better and to decide, intentionally, what I will do.
I first encountered the phrase in, I kid you not, Fallout 3. For those not familiar, that’s a video game, set in Washington D.C., in a kitschy yet deadly nuclear post-apocalyptic world. There’s one non-player character, a D.J., who uses it to frame their motivations, why they keep speaking into the radio, and trying to tell truth to everyone. Most especially to motivate others to do well and to get everyone to fight oppression. And in a bleak post-apocalyptic world, there’s a lot of oppression. To me, the longer I explored playing and replaying the game, it began to take on a sort of anti-racist parable. (Whether it was meant that way by its writers or not.)
You see bits and pieces in the stories and even side quests leading up to the end, and in the end you make a decision. Purge the land of mutants and undesirables, make it “human” the way we used to define human, or instead let the waters of life flow freely to everyone. Detailing the numerous places in the story I saw this and the nuances I saw in those would be a whole other essay. There are parts that don’t entirely dovetail with this, too, they’re just opportunities to do the right thing — or not. It is a choice. In that fiction, but especially in the world.
Suffice it to say, I began to identify the phrase with trying to make the world a better place, every chance one had, at every turn, to the best of one’s abilities.
At one point, years later, I researched the phrase and found out it had a history. A long one. A somewhat mixed one for me.
The most recent notable person to use it that appeared in researching it was Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. (Possibly one of the most misused sources by white folk in trying to discredit black folk agitating, or even just asking, for better. Sorry, a bit of an aside, but it’s just flat out true, and that also has been brought up again in the past several, several months. Please quit doing that, it’s a jackass move.)
More, though, it has a rich connection with Evangelical Christianity. Something that makes me tread carefully here. But some of the first instances are in the bible. I’m not cozy with Evangelical Christianity. I do know Evangelicals who are on the side of good, honestly. But it seems a dwindling variety. Even Jimmy Carter left the Southern Baptist Convention in protest. Which, well, good on Carter for knowing how to stick up for a principle more than an organization. Being a Progressive Evangelical seems a bit like swimming against a riptide in the U.S. these days. You can survive it. Maybe. But perhaps better to be unencumbered by the weight of a large organization operating “in your name” against much of what you hold dear. I’d say it’s hopeless, but it’s a little like how I view being a U.S. citizen. I feel duty bound out of loyalty to be a better citizen.
Christianity is no longer for me, I discovered other experiences and traditions that speak better to what I believe, but there’s a kind of witnessing I hold dear to heart still. It’s not insisting to others they convert to your religious views and constantly trying to show one’s fervor and enthusiasm for one’s own viewpoint. It’s setting a good example, taking the best of your own views, and volunteering them truthfully when asked. It’s living your worldview and your ideals, and letting that be a beacon that draws others to those ideals.
I’ve agonized it, but I’m not going to jettison a perfectly good idiom and rally cry over the fact that there are other people using it to rally towards an antagonistic and exclusionary version of it. It’s the right phrase.
It often is paired with a sense of doom or hopelessness. That perhaps one already knows one has lost going into a situation, and is going forward, regardless. Some days it feels that way. Thus the fatigue.
And I often bring it up with a variety of phrases, which more or less amount to, “We’ve got work to do.”
Why comes easy for me, though.
I believe the world as it is can always be made better, that we can comport ourselves better in it, that we can help one another in doing so, and that all of this is both the ethical and even the happier thing to do. Heartbreaking and angering, at times, but happier than not doing so or running the other way into selfishness.
And… If you believe the world can be better, do you believe you can be part of making it better? I believe I can. I believe everyone can, though not everyone chooses to. I believe choosing to is a moral imperative, though I also believe one should work within one’s abilities sustainably. This is a long and nontrivial undertaking and, unless there’s an opportunity worth throwing yourself away for, unlike Fallout 3, there’s more to be gained in being here to continue working than burning out.
I also believe that perfect isn’t attainable. That there will always be work to do, even if we’re all pulling for better. And, no, I believe there are always some working for their own selfishness, instead, and we have less than ideal conditions for working on this. It’s practically built into the system, there are simply going to be a variety of people, we live in an ecology of people and ideas, and in any ecology there will always be exploitative individuals. The fact that we can’t get perfect isn’t an excuse, it just means that we can’t shirk the responsibility of working to improve the world, or then the world actively gets worse. It might even get worse when we’re working to improve it, some eras are just like that, but there’s every guarantee it will get worse without active help.
So what does fighting the good fight look like to me. Not just a completely abstract “better” but what to do about it?
- Better is love, and love is better. It sounds trite until you put it consistently into practice. It sounds simplistic until you get down to details. It sounds naive, but really… It’s less naive and more open-eyed than any alternative out there.
- Love is founded not in simplistic admiration and flattery, but in empathy and care and concern.
- Empathy is the basic skill in learning to understand and model others emotions in ourselves. Outside of the (relatively) comfortable world of our own selves. It comes harder for some people, easier for others, but if you can learn it, it’s ty to learn it.
- Care and concern are what happens when we feel the urge to act on that empathy. Not just feel what another feels, but use that information towards everyone’s betterment. Empathy without the impetus to action is empty, it’s paralyzing. Do what you can.
- If you take care and concern, and notice what opportunities you have at hand to act on those, you are seeing the chance to do the work.
- Do the work.
- Get better at seeing more opportunities.
- Even more, develop the capacity to see more. Develop the capacity to do more. And even to feel more. To be able to sustain deeper empathy and take a fuller account of what is going on outside of ourselves, and then to act on it.
- Develop the capacity in others to continue the fight, to continue the work. The fight isn’t solo. It’s not you against the world, it’s you alongside the world. You see someone struggling, you help them back up.*
- And most especially, as befits the impetus of this essay: The work is for everyone, neither by a few nor for a few.
- Then get in there and do it again. It isn’t over.
And what does this have to do against, say, terrorism? There are few things more useless, few things that change less in the world, few things that are more selfish than mass murder for the sake of instilling fear into others. It’s one of the acts in the world that is the antithesis of the good fight. But witnessing it makes it all the more imperative to step it up. Even if it doesn’t directly fight people who would do that, it indirectly buttresses the whole world to be both more resilient to such events, and making the world a better place actually makes such acts less appealing. It’s easier to justify propaganda designed to foment attacks when the world looks shitty. People who are themselves terrified see it as a way to bully others, and in some contorted logic that’s supposed to lead to a better world. It doesn’t. It’s flawed logic. But it’s there.
Even something as seemingly remote as an attack thousands of miles away can be influenced by how we, collectively, make the world better or fail to. Imagine how much more influence we have closer to home. Better is better. Maybe not evenly, but done right and in the right spirit it should become more even, more just.
The particulars vary. They always vary. I may get specific about what I am trying to do, later. But I’m not getting too specific here just now because it is a certainty that your opportunities will be different than mine. (Maybe less long winded, too.)
Fight the good fight with me.
I have some great allies. More than I could hope to know, in fact, and many don’t know me.
But we could always use more.
* (In fact, this is often my role, but when I lost my temper earlier this week, a relatively new fiend, Tori, reached out to me and helped me back up, for which I am immensely grateful.)