Victoria Jelinek


XII: Fighting Despair

“An individual has not started living until he can rise above the narrow confines of his individualistic concerns to the broader concerns of all humanity.” Martin Luther King

Birch treesEven as I write this I know that I must continue to maintain hope for the sake of my young son and all that I know is excellent, beautiful, and good in this world. Intellectually I know there is so much. But emotionally it’s getting harder to believe this. I increasingly feel more impotent, discouraged, and disdainful with humanity and its actions. Not just what I read in various news outlets, but what I observe around me every time I leave the house. My sense of humor is failing me. I’ve noticed in recent months that I don’t laugh my big, open-mouthed laugh any more. This is stupid, too, ‘cause losing one’s sense of humor only makes matters worse. I’m not sure how to maintain strength, hope, and humor when all of the things that give me hope and joy (tolerance, kindness, intelligence, collectivism, excellence and the magnificent natural world) seem to be diminishing. I write this today in the hope that it will serve as a catharsis. In the hope that I’m not alone in my thinking.

So, here is the litany of global events that have happened in the last two years that, in my opinion, reflect societal values and are consequently undermining my belief that this world is fundamentally a righteous place:

Syria, with the aid of Russia, prompts a mass migration of immigrants to the EU, which in turn emboldens racist, xenophobic, & nationalistic ideology throughout Europe, threatening the basis and formation of the European Union.

England & Wales, as a result of a misinformation campaign (Facebook, Cambridge Analytica, Nigel Farage) withdraws from the European Union and takes Scotland and Ireland with it.

With the aid of the Electoral College, gerrymandering, voter suppression, and Russian interference, Donald Trump takes the USA White House.

Emmanuel Macron narrowly beats the right-wing Front National (since ‘rebranded’ and going stronger than ever in time for the European Elections in a couple of weeks, aided by the Yellow Vest movement).

Jair Bolsonaro is elected in Brazil and vows to ‘open up’ more of the Amazon to industrial interests.

A fascist right-wing party is elected to lead Italy. With Viktor Orban of Hungary, they call for leaders to be elected in the upcoming EU elections who will reduce immigration (wolf whistle for ideology that defies EU principles).

Germany has representatives in their parliament from the far right for the first time since the Third Reich.

Spain has representatives in their parliament from the far right for the first time since Franco.

Sweden narrowly maintains a Socialist government, as does the Netherlands, in relatively recent elections.

There are mass shootings in the USA almost weekly. There is encouragement to shoot immigrants by Trump. Immigrants looking for shelter stateside are separated from their families, caged, and “lost.” The meat and water that the populace eats and drinks are contaminated due to decreased FDA and EPA protections, as well as the loosening of controls on industrial practices. The American administration is attempting a coup in Venezuela, and alienating democratic countries that the USA has had global alliances with for a hundred years.

Public education around the world is under siege. Teachers work for noble reasons or they don’t know what else to do. Students and their parents increasingly value education as a means to get into a ‘good’ university in order to get a ‘good job,’ in order to earn a lot of money, rather than for learning in-and-of-itself. Arts and humanities are being cut throughout the world, even as they define civilizations.

The wealthy elude taxes that keep infrastructure present for everyone. Multi national corporations elude taxes. The poor resent taxes. Income inequality grows more disparate, and this in turn affects our collective gene pool (subsequent lifestyle habits, healthcare resources, educational opportunities, etc.).

And climate calamity is on the horizon.

What is the global response? It’s open season on wolves and bears – necessary creatures for healthy ecosystems. Trophy hunting laws and endangered animal protections are eased. The hyper rich want their wildlife pets to signify status. The Chinese still think rhino horns are medicinal. Poaching is rampant. Nature reserves are under attack. Japan has re-introduced commercial whaling. The Faroe Islands continue to have an annual ‘ceremonial’ whale slaughter. The Arctic melts but short-sighted people just want jobs on oilrigs and fishing tankers. Habitat destruction and deforestation are destroying animals and insects essential to life itself, as well as plants that make medicines that keep humans living longer than ever before.

Industrial and corporate interests dominate governments and cultures. Governments throughout the world continue to subsidize the fossil fuel industries, which in turn continue to spend millions of dollars each year to lobby against clean energy and to keep consumers addicted to their goods. Pollution is literally choking humanity, making our children sick, and killing our natural protections against this.

Today, despite the rest of Europe – France, Spain, Sweden, Denmark, Belgium, the Netherlands – fighting for 95% reduction of emissions by 2050, Italy, Hungary, Poland, and Germany rejected the motion. Reducing pollution and promoting sustainability is not in the interests of the powers that control many countries and their societies. And without governmental laws to MAKE people change their habits, there will be no real change.

And it’s not histrionic to say that if this doesn’t change, it means that we humans will then die after much suffering. We will face water scarcity, food shortage, illness, and war over resources…droughts, storms, fires, earthquakes will render populations homeless…animals, insects, and natural landscapes will be eliminated. But the planet will live on. Yes, we humans will take many of the current animal and natural species with us to our extinction, but eventually there will be new ones, and new forests, and new life. But it won’t include our children or us. Certainly not our children’s children.

What do we do? We continue to consume more than we need and to waste too much. We continue to have a lot of children. To eat a lot of meat that requires a great deal of land to harvest (not to mention what happens to the poor animals). To order things online that are shipped across the world because they’re ‘cheaper’. To buy disposable clothes, toys, plastic, goods of all kinds because we simply want them, they’re cheap, we don’t care what’s happening to the earth or to others, and because the measure of ‘success’ is material. We continue to drive huge, petrol/diesel guzzling cars. And fast, despite signs asking us to slow down ’cause speed effects emissions. We fly more than ever before in human history ‘cause we can. Finally, led by anger and fear stoked in mainstream media, we vote with our manufactured feelings rather than our reason. We vote for our own individual interests. Or we don’t vote at all.

This diatribe has, indeed, worked as a catharsis.

Even as I withdraw more these days and my humor is limited, I know that hope is not lost. The fight is not foregone. Feelings have not completely overridden reason. There are righteous folks fighting for all of us every day. Yes, Putin and his ilk are ruthlessly greedy for domination. Political leaders and would-be political leaders will exploit the anger and ignorance of the masses to their own end, creating backwards, unproductive societies for a generation or two. Most people will avoid their taxes unless they’re punished. Humans won’t want to reduce their creature comforts or to look directly into the face of their destructive habits. And humans without material goods will continue to want them. I don’t have any real power to affect the world on a macro level (if only – boy would I be good at being Queen of the world! Obviously modest).

What I CAN do is to focus my energies personally and politically:

  • Personal life appreciated and a moderate lifestyle maintained – mostly ‘tick,’ though this can always be improved upon.
  • A rewarding profession that helps the world in some way – mostly ‘tick.’
  • Living according to my values – exalting beauty, excellence, intelligence; modeling curiosity, kindness, and tolerance; cherishing socialism, liberalism, and conservation – not quite a tick because I’ve been wallowing in anger and resentment towards humanity in general for awhile – but I am working on it.
  • Voting for candidates who I believe will address at least a portion of the aforementioned injustices – tick.
  • Supporting causes and action that will fight for conservation of the natural world (as well as humanity in general) – tick.

 

 

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The Baby Diaries 23

Before God we are all equally wise – and equally foolish. Albert Einstein

0594-marianne-stampInternational Women’s Day is March 8th and it has me thinking about what it means to be a woman in the context of motherhood today. It may be a taboo to write, but I find that the most difficult aspect of motherhood is the fact that I must be less selfish. I think it’s hard enough to be an ambitious woman in this world, much less one who is also a mother.

Having my son has been, by far, the greatest accomplishment of my life. This in the context of surviving divorce, illness, several moves, and a few career incarnations. In the long run, too, it is likely the most interesting thing I’ve ever done. This is in the context of living in a variety of places, working in the film industry and as a writer, traveling everywhere, and being married more than once.  But in the daily scheme of things, it’s hard work to be a woman and a mother. I won’t be able to sleep in again until he’s in his teens. I can’t just move to a more desirable locale if the whim or an opportunity exists, as I must defer to my husband and his wishes. I must work towards compromise and contentment in my marriage to the father of my child, even when circumstances are taxing. Living in a provincial small town, I must often sit with the women in the kitchen as we discuss our children and our marital relationships, when I would prefer rhetorical conversations on politics, culture, books, and film. And, when I do have the opportunity for these types of conversations, they are fractured because I must attend to my small child. It’s a lot of personal sacrifice and a lot of work, which has prompted me to go outside of myself and consider what we as women have accomplished over the last century.

Issues typically associated with notions of women’s rights cover, but are not limited to, several points: the right to bodily integrity and autonomy. Yet these rights do not exist for many women in the Middle East or Africa, as evidenced in mutilation exercises, rape, and the covering of the body. The right to vote. This is relatively new – it only became possible for women in the U.S. in 1920 and in the UK in 1928, and it has just became possible for Saudi women in 2011. The right to hold public office. Yet women are not evenly represented with men in public offices throughout the world. The right to fair wages and equal pay. Yet women, on average, earn 44% less than a male counterpart in the same position. The right to own property. Yet in China, male family members are the proprietors of property, and in France, a man’s property goes to his son, first, and if there isn’t a son, the father, and if there isn’t a father, a brother, before it goes to his wife. The right to be educated. Yes, indeed, girls can go to school, but see the aforementioned regarding equal opportunities and wages. Parental and marital rights. In France in a divorce, the children are not automatically put in the guardianship of their mother (not by a long shot) and there is no such thing as an equal division of property (the French republic’s motto is, after all, “Liberte, Eqalite, et Fraternite” even if the French republic’s motto is embodied by the image of a woman, Marianne of France). When there are disparate rights between men and women, institutionalized or supported by law, local custom, or behavior, the argument runs along the lines that women’s rights are different from the broader aspirations of human rights because of inherent historical and traditional bias against females. In essence, a man’s rights trump a woman’s rights because it’s just that way historically and culturally.

I stumbled on an article written in The Washington Post in October entitled “7 Ridiculous Restrictions on Women’s Rights Around the World.” Apparently, road safety laws do not apply to women in India (such as helmets on a motorbike). In Yemen, women are considered half a person when giving testimony (but hey, they can give testimony). Also in Yemen, women can’t leave the house without permission from their husbands (rushing to the aid of ill parents is exempted). In Ecuador, abortion is illegal unless you’re “demented” or an “idiot” (there’s another article on political correctness here). In Saudi Arabia and Morocco, rape victims can be charged with crimes (such as leaving the house without a man in the first place). Also in Saudi Arabia, women can’t drive (but they’re not even the worst – they’re #10 ahead of Mali, Morocco, Iran, Cote d’Ivoire, Mauritania, Syria, Chad, Pakistan and Yemen).

What’s also worrying to me is that many younger women (I can’t believe that I can say this) feel that the battle for equal rights between men and women has been won. Sure, there are more women in the boardroom and in the political arena, as well as greater equality in legislative rights, and there are visible female role models in all aspects of life…but, as mentioned, they are not paid the same as their male counterparts, nor represented in equal numbers in politics or business (ever notice that the heads of all the departments on a film crew are usually male, too, with the exception of hair and makeup, costume, and a few producing roles?) But this prompts me to hope, and, as I explain my hope, reveal my cynicism: my hope is that money will eventually motivate the change necessary to truly make women equal. The World Economic Forum recently wrote that there’s a “strong correlation between a country’s gender gap and its national competitiveness.” Ergo, a nation’s competitive edge in the long term depends on whether it utilizes its women, who comprise one-half of a given country’s “potential talent base.”

When I consider the global situation, I know I should be grateful, not least of all because I have the luxury to consider these things. I’m also married to a Danish man, and all of the Scandinavian and Northern European countries are in the top rankings for gender equality (alongside the Philippines and Nicaragua – who would have thought?). I can vote (but for whom?). I can leave the house of my own volition without fear of arrest. I can drive. I can work and have a family, even if it’s stressful sometimes. And while it sometimes doesn’t seem like it, I do have choices.