#171: Writing as Witnessing

The world can be a depressing place. Anyone who ever thought about just staying in bed a little longer in the morning, about dulling their senses before going to bed, just to avoid hearing and thinking about what is going on in the world will probably understand. It is safe to assume that once we outgrow childhood, we all understand.

How can we escape the terror of a world in chaos? How can we react to whatever can be classified as the bad news of the day?

Just currently, this would be a long list (see below). This list can be reshuffled depending on whatever may seem urgent – and certainly, it is only a small section of things we should be paying attention to. Most of us don’t do this, and if I was not teaching political science classes, I would probably not be as vigilant either. My worries come with my job – or did I choose my job because of my worries? Originally, I started studying history, literature and cultural studies – but drifted into politics. Oh well. I guess I was asking for my headaches, but I cannot blame others if they choose not to have them.

So, what can we do?

Initially, probably nothing much. This is okay. We are all just individual people, with a very limited range of abilities. We may dream of being superheroes – but these are fantasy, we have to live in reality. We also may not have enough resources to help materially, given the potential endlessness of the list of problems.

We cannot control the world. We may pretend to be able to do so, and we may achieve a few things that may make things better within our small area of influence. So, should we just give up, recede into the privacy of our lives? Many seem to have done so. Disconnection from the world and from community seems to have become an acceptable way of life. The ancient Greek concept for such a behavior is that of the private person, the one focused on themselves, an ἰδιώτης (idiṓtēs), an idiot. Behind this idea stands the realization – common to the classical world in Greek and Roman cities – that as a citizen, you have responsibility for society around you. A private life may be desirable, but ultimately meaningless. According to Aristotle, we are social beings, connected to the city, the polis – each of us is a ζῷον πολιτικόν, an animal belonging to the polis, characterized by the things of the polis, by politics. Our purpose is societal, not merely individual fulfillment.

But what can we do if we feel that actual political engagement is not possible? We can always educate ourselves, we can always think, we can always share our thoughts and insights – not necessarily for selfish pleasure or aggrandizement, not for reasons of narcissism, but in order to be a witness. We can create awareness, which always starts with self-awareness. We cannot have an opinion on everything either, or rather, we shouldn’t. I tend to write about those things I know most about; but I hope that I am aware of other problems also – just because I am not writing about them does not mean I would think they are unimportant.

Writing is therapeutic – for that, you may consider a personal diary. But all of us, if we have the technology, and just a little bit of time, can contribute to society by raising awareness, by being a witness, by making sure that we can do what we can. In the face of injustice, we can say: “not in my name” – which then, ideally, grows to “not in our name”. When it comes to issues that matter, we don’t have to be silent, we can encourage others to not be silent either, and if we think politically, this is what we indeed must do if we take our role as citizens seriously – specifically as citizens of the world. We must pay attention, we must speak out, we must not live and think in isolation. Don’t be an idiot.

Footnote: List of current issues, June 2022

  • Coronavirus crisis – not yet over, in spite of what we would like, especially given the possibility of reinfection and long covid even after (thankfully!) being vaccinated and boosted
  • War by Russia against Ukraine, with the very real possibility of escalation if Putin wins
  • Continuing war in Yemen – maybe with a chance of peace soon?
  • Continuing war in Syria – fueled by Putin, exploited by Erdoğan
  • Genocide against Uighurs in China – which we have tried to ignore for far too long, and which follows the brutal submission of Tibet and efforts to suppress Mongol identity in Inner Mongolia
  • Threats against Taiwan by China – combined with an aggressive buildup of military power by China on artificial islands
  • Continuing conflict/civil war in Ethiopia/Tigray/Eritrea
  • Continuing conflict/civil war in Sudan/Darfur
  • Continuing conflict/civil war in South Sudan
  • Continuing crisis in Mali and Niger – also fueled by Putin
  • Terrorism in Nigeria by Boko Haram
  • Rise of the Taliban after Western withdrawal
  • Drug-cartel fueled crisis in South and Central America
  • Continued breakdown of Venezuela due to the Socialist government’s failed policies
  • Continued threats against the Rohingya
  • Inflation
  • Supply line crisis
  • Gun violence and crime
  • Homelessness
  • Discrimination
  • Political radicalization
  • Political apathy. Who cares…
  • Brexit. A “gift” that will keep on giving.
  • Boris Johnson’s hypocritical antics
  • UFOs – really?
  • Monkeypox. Seriously, Monkeypox?
  • And is there not also climate change?