I'd Rather Be Divisive Than Indecisive...
The posts wants to not modulate the key...
|Jun 2, 2020||60||13|
Originally, due to the release of All Things Reconsidered today, my plan was to write something here for you all that was CRACKLING with wit and SPARKLING with gratitude about the book and the journey to seeing it published blah blah blah. You get the drill. All that generic authorly pontificating stuff.
But today, the thought of doing any of that seems trite and borderline inappropriate.
Instead, what I wanted to do is take the premise of ATR and apply it to the moment I (we) am (are) experiencing in an effort to better understand how I should intersect with this moment, how I can support, and how I can play some small role in making the world a better place.
In ATR, I use a very indulgent, inside jokey device throughout wherein I shoehorn Hamilton references into my work and then call attention to this by noting it in the footnotes section on the corresponding page. I did this because A) Hamilton is very very very very rad.
B) Because there are some extraordinary turns of phrase throughout the show.
C) Because up until I wrote the conclusion, I couldn’t otherwise figure out a way to talk about Hamilton within the manuscript, which felt weird for something that I was roundly obsessed with.
In particular, there’s one specific line from a song that I assumed I’d be able to use in the book, but weirdly, once I was done and the manuscript was finished, I realized I never actually used it.
And it wasn’t until after the events of the last few days and weeks that I realized how this line - and the song containing it - was an apt commentary on what is happening in our world right now.
It’s from the song Farmer Refuted which musically leverages an actually real event to demonstrate the divisions about whether or not to push for wholesale change and revolution. And before I get to the specific line, let me build a baseline of context around the song and how it relates to our modern moment.
In the song, our hero Alexander Hamilton, a young revolutionary, is debating an entrenched Loyalist, Bishop Samuel Seabury.
Because Samuel is a loyalist, he represents the Status Quo and because Alex is a revolutionary, he represents Change. I think you understood that but I just wanted to be overt about that point here because we will be diving DEEP into the waters of symbolism in the next few paragraphs.
Throughout the song, the Samuel character uses very purposeful and very obfuscating language when defending his viewpoint:
“Heed not the rabble who scream revolution.”
“Chaos and bloodshed are not a solution.”
“They're playing a dangerous game
I pray the king shows you his mercy
For shame, for shame”
Again, the language here is very purposeful because Samuel wants to project the idea of what Change represents: danger, chaos, bloodshed, shame, and the necessity of mercy (which, when used, “mercy” is a concept but also a subtle reassertion of power dynamics. It’s why Cobra Kai was OBSESSED with mercy in Karate Kid; because it presumes that each member of Cobra Kai has the power to decide their opponents’ fates.)
And we understand this language because, not to get too in the weeds, but Samuel had a pretty decent gig and setup so he was incentivized into maintaining that normalcy.
This is self-serving, but real and important to understand because in the core of who we are, all of us, when we have privilege, we tend to despise equality because that equality takes on the threatening appearance of oppression. Which it is not! But it FEELS like a version of oppression because it represents a regression to the mean instead of maintaining a superior position.
To bring it into our circumstances today, the through-line here is in relation to Black Lives Matter vs. All Lives Matter argument and ideology. The All Lives Matter frustration stems from the idea that if we value Black Lives over other lives then that isn’t equal, but the problem here is that this argument presumes an already existent equality, but as we know, that does not actually exist. And if we disagree on that point, go bite a urinal or something because we’re just not living in the same reality.
To tie this idea back to the previous paragraph, All Lives Matter exists because of a generational privilege that is being “threatened” with the outcry of equality in the treatment of people of color and to proponents of the ALM ideology that equality presents like oppression.
BACK TO HAMILTON.
Now, let’s look at some of Alex’s language in the same song.
“Yo he'd have you all unravel at the sound of screams”
“Chaos and bloodshed already haunt us, honestly you shouldn't even talk”
“Look at the cost, n' all that we've lost n' you talk about congress?”
“This Congress does not speak for me”
Alex’s language acknowledges all of the things Samuel references earlier in the song, but the difference is in how Alex acknowledges these things as already existing.
In other words, the sound of screams, chaos / bloodshed, cost and lost, for Alex and the people he represents, these words aren’t something to be feared with the advent of change; they are pre-existing conditions of their lives thus motivating the desire for change.
Again, to tie this back to modern events, the modern tension of Change Everything vs. Go Back To How Things Were can be connected to the disparity in how language and ideals bend and contort depending on who and what is being discussed. Equality, sanctity of life, lawlessness, these are all examples of words white people use with conditionality.
“Equality” when it comes to the general notion of segregation but not in how the justice system treats different skin colors.
“Sanctity of life” is used when it comes to the very recent prioritizing (and politicizing) of abortion as an issue but yet we don’t hear this same language applied when black teenagers are shot at by police.
“Lawlessness” is used to describe a certain skin color seen in protest footage but it is avoided when other skin colors storm government buildings in Michigan or perform public lynchings in Georgia.
BACK TO HAMILTON.
Throughout the song, one of Alex’s acquaintances, Aaron Burr (yup the very same Aaron Burr that kills him ((HISTORICAL SPOILER ALERT)) keeps urging Alex to be careful with his words and rhetoric. But finally at the end, in response to Aaron’s warnings Alex finally snaps and says:
“Burr, I’d rather be divisive than indecisive / drop the niceties.”
I love this line even though I haven’t always known what to do with it. I don’t like indecision. But I also don’t like divisiveness either. Division feels messy and complicated and truly, at my core, I want people to be aligned and to get along.
But these are messy, messy times and I don’t know if alignment is possible without a little bit of mess.
In recent days, the nuance of these two ideas (indecisive vs. divisive) came into sharper relief for me in wondering what my place was in the larger cultural conversation we’re all currently reckoning with.
I wanted to thoughtfully discern how to contribute without making it about me or weighing down the progress of it all with my white person pensiveness.
I think for a long time, people like me have avoided contemplation about our role in this national race divide because it feels super complex. We want to help and aid and support, but these very compulsions also leave us cognizant and overly fearful about doing or saying the wrong thing. In these moments, the risk profile seems too high and the comfort of staying quiet is very intoxicating
BEST TO JUST NOT THEN, most of us have no doubt thought. I know I definitely have. But that’s the exact thing the founding fathers did when they kicked the can down the road on definitively weighing in about slavery. It was cowardly then and it shirks off the duty of change onto others in the name of continuity while the roots of injustice extend more deeply.
And yeah, I know it felt like I was really going for the Oscar For Most Dramatic White Guy Essay Sentence in the previous sentence, but this policy of hot potato with difficult subjects is not good enough anymore. I have to do better so I feel like its almost a necessity to use strong language like the word “shirk” and the phrase “roots of injustice.”
To wrap this reconsideration up, I think there are a lot of people like me who have avoided divisiveness because we’re trying to hold down some kind of line of nuance of accommodating the people we know and go to school / church / work with who think differently than us.
And on a lot of issues, I think that’s okay because we all have different backgrounds, experiences, and lenses with which we see the world. To be dogmatic or absolute about how EVERYONE should interpret certain issues is wrong.
But this is one of those issues that we HAVE to be dogmatic and absolute about because in terms of the systemic oppression of people of color, in terms of police brutality, in terms of people thinking that “slavery was a long time ago and this shouldn’t still be a big deal”, in terms of there STILL being Confederate statues and monuments in the south, in terms of America lionizing Tim Tebow for kneeling while hating Colin Kaepernick, to echo the sentiments of Alexander Hamilton, these are the things we HAVE be divisive about because the time for indecision and niceties is over.