Solace for Times as Dark as Ours

Moses and Monotheism

“In darker days there lived a man who thought as you did”.

Many talented and morally fit activists are becoming discouraged and frustrated as their efforts to avoid our impending external disasters and internal divisiveness are subjected to incivility probably not seen within the United States since the era immediately preceding the Civil War; as their good faith efforts to address our current problems are confronted by ridicule and acrimony rather than fruitful discussion; as their social media posts are distorted by paid trolls writing from prepared scripts.  Among those finding themselves mired in a sense of hopelessness are some of my closest friends, some of the people I most admire, decent as well as brilliant but sensitive too. People whose energy, dedication and ideals we can ill afford to lose but whom we are losing all the same.

Any of us is likely to succumb to similar despair and discouragement.  That’s not surprising.  That’s the plan.  Those bound by truth and ethics are at severe disadvantages when confronting those to whom truth is irrelevant in the face of rhetorical quips, ridicule and optimal ethical flexibility, those to whom winning now is all that matters and the future be damned, those who believe, as did Louis XV of France, that “Après moi, le déluge” (some of us may recall the “deluge” that visited his France during his grandson’s abbreviated reign).  The next “deluge”, however, is all too likely to be our last as a species, so we must somehow find a means to reinforce our determination when things seem desperate, or when we are emotionally wounded and just want to find a quiet place to lick our wounds and escape the madness.  And for that we need each other, even if we are not acquainted.  Sometimes even the realization, as Sigmund Freud pointed out, that “[i]n darker days there lived a man who thought as you did” (Moses and Monotheism) may prove enough.

The following is a letter I recently wrote in reply to a friend concerning his experiences with the foregoing malaise which has apparently led him to despair of using social media to help guide his friends towards positive political solutions.  I take the liberty of sharing it publicly, albeit without identifying him, perhaps playing the role, for an instant, of that “man who lived in darker times” for those of us who find ourselves in need of encouragement and a route out of our of despair in the face of the entropy of things as they are and of where they appear headed:

Dear ________,

I too very much value our relationship, in fact it is something I treasure.  I understand your frustration.  We share common goals but have different opinions regarding who the villains are and that’s positive, we complement each other.  But I feel you’re wrong to “drop out” of Facebook, although through use of algorithms and selective blocking it is becoming a manipulative rather than neutral medium.  It is not a great medium but there are all too few communicative avenues open to us.

I believe we face an existential threat but not from Trump.  I disagree with most of his policies and those I do agree with have been blunted by his opposition.  The real threat, as I see it, is a cumulative strategic threat based on poor economic and foreign policy decisions over a very long time, decisions which have left the United States on top of the world but sitting over a sinkhole and propped up primarily by smoke and mirrors.  We are despised for our hubris, arrogance and selfishness by people all over the world although the domestic leadership we impose in many countries keeps them in line, … for now, but the pressure keeps building.

We need to salvage the people who have been damaged and whose views strike us as abominable, they are humans with feelings and needs and with real experiences that have led them to the perspectives they hold and ridiculing and ostracizing them will not make them disappear, it will just feed into their extremist tendencies.  Politics of polarization, identity politics and dredging up the long distant past for political purposes in lieu of addressing real problems and coming up with real solutions just keeps us distracted and on our accelerating downward spiral.

The future may well belong to Sino-Russian led initiatives involving new Silk Road proposals, Russian energy pipelines and joint alternative plans for a new monetary infrastructure replacing the one led by the United States.  If the dollar falls from its place as the medium of exchange for international trade and investment, our collapse could mirror that of the late Soviet Union.  In order to avoid that disaster we need to make a U-turn on foreign intervention and military expenditures, shore up our infrastructure and social safety net and become collaborative in the emerging economic order rather than confrontational.  I don’t see that on the horizon.  In order to get there I believe our existing political structure requires drastic modification and replacement of key components including both major parties and the mainstream media, all of which are leading us into a disaster that will make 1929 seem like a summer picnic.

To accomplish change one needs to interact with those whose views are different, not just echoes of our own perspectives, and that is unpleasant and frustrating and frequently humiliating.  We are also people with feelings that can be hurt, especially by people for whom we care.  That is where I think you find yourself, a warrior very much in need of R&R suffering from post-traumatic stress, but in the midst of battle.  There are way too few of us and the loss of anyone with the requisite education, intelligence, morality and communicative ability is something we cannot afford.  But sometimes one has to bear the unacceptable.  At other times a bit of rest makes a big difference, the law of diminishing returns, like the need for sleep, demanding its tribute.

I see us as on the edge of an abyss, not only facing the external realities I described above but internal fragmentation based on “win at all costs” politics of destruction with little care for consequences, destroying oppositional traditions with nothing to replace them but civil strife; this at a time when, if even the semblance of our continuing prosperity, unequal though it is, is to be salvaged, we need to unite.  It’s almost as if the tides of history, in alliance with Mother Nature, have turned against us and there are very few of us who see what is coming and have the creativity to come up with viable alternatives to at least minimize the consequences.

We can ill afford your loss.

Something to think about.

So, dear reader, our views may be different, our understanding of the problems facing us or of who is responsible may be opposed, our perspectives and proposed solutions may not coincide, but if we’re to develop novel paradigms to resolve the myriad evolving apparently intractable problems facing us, we cannot afford to drop out in anger or despair or disappointment.  The only assurance of failure comes when we give up, when we don’t try, when our fear of failure overcomes our desire to succeed.

The quote from Freud cited above has frequently provided me with solace and a link to friends unknown, friends not only distant in space but in time.  Friends whose names I’ll never know but who, just knowing that they existed, exist or will exist, provides a link that’s given me courage in very dark times, and few times seem darker than those we now seem to be facing.

Hopefully, should you find yourself in need of such solace, those unknown and unknowable friends will provide it to you as well.

Hang in there.

© Guillermo Calvo Mahé; Manizales, 2017; all rights reserved.  Please feel free to share with appropriate attribution.

Guillermo Calvo Mahé (a sometime poet) is a writer, political commentator and academic currently residing in the Republic of Colombia although he has primarily lived in the United States of America (of which he is a citizen).  Until recently he chaired the political science, government and international relations programs at the Universidad Autónoma de Manizales.  He has academic degrees in political science (the Citadel), law (St. John’s University), international legal studies (New York University) and translation studies (the University of Florida’s Center for Latin American Studies).  He can be contacted at or and much of his writing is available through his blog at

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