all towns are
one, all men our kin.
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in aN ASYMMETRIC Multi Lateral World
The Optimism of Uncertainty
Howard Zinn , 6 November 2004
author of A People's History of the United States
[see also Howard Zinn and Howard Zinn ZNet Home Page]
"..the struggle for justice should never be abandoned because of the apparent overwhelming power of those who have the guns and the money and who seem invincible in their determination to hold on to it. That apparent power has, again and again, proved vulnerable to human qualities less measurable than bombs and dollars: moral fervor, determination, unity, organization, sacrifice, wit, ingenuity, courage, patience - whether by blacks in Alabama and South Africa, peasants in El Salvador, Nicaragua and Vietnam, or workers and intellectuals in Poland, Hungary and the Soviet Union itself. No cold calculation of the balance of power need deter people who are persuaded that their cause is just....We don't have to engage in grand, heroic actions to participate in the process of change. Small acts, when multiplied by millions of people, can transform the world.."
|In this awful world where the efforts of caring people often
pale in comparison to what is done by those who have power, how do I
manage to stay involved and seemingly happy?
I am totally confident not that the world will get better, but that we should not give up the game before all the cards have been played. The metaphor is deliberate; life is a gamble. Not to play is to foreclose any chance of winning. To play, to act, is to create at least a possibility of changing the world.
What leaps out from the history of the past hundred years is its
utter unpredictability. A revolution to overthrow the czar of
Russia, in that most sluggish of semi-feudal empires, not only
startled the most advanced imperial powers but took Lenin himself by
surprise and sent him rushing by train to Petrograd. Who would have
predicted the bizarre shifts of World War II--the Nazi-Soviet pact
(those embarrassing photos of von Ribbentrop and Molotov shaking
hands), and the German Army rolling through Russia, apparently
invincible, causing colossal casualties, being turned back at the
gates of Leningrad, on the western edge of Moscow, in the streets of
Stalingrad, followed by the defeat of the German army, with Hitler
huddled in his Berlin bunker, waiting to die?
I have tried hard to match my friends in their pessimism about the world (is it just my friends?), but I keep encountering people who, in spite of all the evidence of terrible things happening everywhere, give me hope. Especially young people, in whom the future rests. Wherever I go, I find such people. And beyond the handful of activists there seem to be hundreds, thousands, more who are open to unorthodox ideas. But they tend not to know of one another's existence, and so, while they persist, they do so with the desperate patience of Sisyphus endlessly pushing that boulder up the mountain.
We don't have to engage in
grand, heroic actions to participate in the process of change. Small
acts, when multiplied by millions of people, can transform the
world. Even when we don't "win," there is fun and fulfillment in the
fact that we have been involved, with other good people, in
something worthwhile. We need hope.
What we choose to emphasize in this complex history will determine
our lives. If we see only the worst, it destroys our capacity to do
something. If we remember those times and places--and there are so
many--where people have behaved magnificently, this gives us the
energy to act, and at least the possibility of sending this spinning
top of a world in a different direction. And if we do act, in
however small a way, we don't have to wait for some grand utopian
future. The future is an infinite succession of presents, and to
live now as we think human beings should live, in defiance of all
that is bad around us, is itself a marvellous victory.