Bookmarked Rebecca Solnit on Black Swans, Slim Chances, and the 2020 Presidential Election (Literary Hub)

Donald Trump wasn’t really a black swan because everyone saw him coming; it’s just that a lot of people didn’t think he’d finish the journey. If you’re blindsided by climate disasters or Republican corruption, it’s not because they’re black swans; it’s just that you ignored the evidence. A pandemic like this had long been predicted. The nuclear catastrophe at Chernobyl was waiting to happen, thanks to bad design and bad maintenance protocol. One huge problem with human beings in general, but particularly those who suffer from overconfidence, especially because they think they’re in charge, is that we tend to dismiss the unlikely and prepare for what we think of as the likely, even as we live out a history full of black swans and unlikelihoods.

Rebecca Solnit reflects upon the world that we are currently in. She calls for hope, not optimism:

Black swans happen. Which is why I’ve modified the slogan, hope for the best, prepare for the worst to: Hope and work for the best (and also be prepared to wrestle with the worst if it arises).

This reminds me of a piece from the Librarianshipwreck in regards to COVID-19.

Hope, on the contrary, is not the belief that “things will get better” but the belief that “things can get better.” To be hopeful is not to be certain that things will improve, it is to refuse to accept that this is as good as it can get. If optimism says “this is the best of all possible worlds,” and pessimism retorts, “you’re right” – it is hope that responds to both by saying “a better world is possible.”

Liked Rebecca Solnit on Twitter Conspiracies, QAnon, and the Case of the Two-Faced Mailboxes (LitHub)

QAnon is worse than mailbox misrepresentations on approximately the scale that nuclear bombs are worse than rubber-band guns, but difference in scale isn’t necessarily difference in kind. And it’s a slippery slope. When it comes to writing nonfiction, let alone news, I’m a stickler for it actually being nonfiction (which has plenty of latitude for talking about uncertainty, imperfect memory, wishful thinking and imagination as such), and I’ve often told students that it’s a slippery slope from the things that your stepfather didn’t really smash to the weapons of mass destruction that Iraq didn’t really have. Besides, when people are afraid to fight you on principles and ideas, they fight you on facts, and if you want to win it helps to have them all in order.

Bookmarked Do Protests Even Work? (The Atlantic)

Movements, and their protests, are powerful because they change the minds of people, including those who may not even be participating in them, and they change the lives of their participants.


In the long term, protests work because they can undermine the most important pillar of power: legitimacy.

Zeynep Tufekci explores the potential of protests to challenge the legitimacy of those in power. As she explains, what would have taken years to coordinate in the past can now be organised in days with apps and digital platforms. This lack of friction can subsequently dilute the impact of such movements. However, what can make a protest more pertinent is the level of risk associated with it. As Tufekci highlights with the current situation in America.

The current Black Lives Matter protest wave is definitely high risk through the double whammy of the pandemic and the police response. The police, the entity being protested, have unleashed so much brutality that in just three weeks, at least eight people have already lost eyesight to rubber bullets. One Twitter thread dedicated to documenting violent police misconduct is at 600 entries and counting. And nobody seems safe—not even a 75-year-old avowed peacenik who was merely in the way of a line of cops when he was shoved so violently that he fell and cracked his skull. Chillingly, the police walked on as he bled on the ground. After the video came out to widespread outrage, and the two police officers who shoved him were suspended, their fellow officers on the active emergency-response team resigned to support their colleagues. Plus the pandemic means that protesters who march in crowds, face tear gas, and risk jail and detention in crowded settings are taking even more risks than usual.

The challenge with any protest is the fear repression. This is what stopped the Chinese protests in 1989 and the Egyptian protests in 2013. However, such measures have their limits.

Force and repression can keep things under control for a while, but it also makes such rule more brittle.

The challenge to power and repression is overcome by changing the culture and conversation. This is required to undermine the legitimacy.

Legitimacy, not repression, is the bedrock of resilient power.

This is why Anne Helen Petersen argues that small protests in small towns matter because there have been a lot of them, therefore the bedrock is crumbling.

Rebecca Solnit uses the metaphor of a waterfall to describe such change:

The metaphor of the river of time is often used to suggest that history flows at a steady pace, but real rivers have rapids and shallows, eddies and droughts. They freeze over and get dammed and their water gets diverted. And sometimes the river comes to the precipice and we’re all in the waterfall. Time accelerates, things change faster than anyone expected, water clear as glass becomes churning whitewater, what was thought to be impossible or the work of years is accomplished in a flash

When they are a consensus idea, that’s the end of the insurrection, or the waterfall, and politicians are smoothing things over and people have accepted the idea that they at first resisted, whether it’s the abolition of slavery or the right to marriage equality

Although she suggests there are groups who deserve credit for escalating the current situation.

One more group deserves credit for the present moment: the police. They themselves have made a fantastic case for defunding or abolition—at least as they currently exist. Nationwide, with the whole world watching, these civil servants showed they use public funds to brutalize, murder, and deny the constitutional rights of members of that public. One might imagine they’d have wanted to be careful in the wake of the Floyd murder, but they went on a spectacular display of their own sense of immunity by—well, shooting out the eyes of eight people with “sublethal” weapons, managing to blind a photojournalist in one eye; attacking and arresting dozens of members of the media at work, especially nonwhite ones; San Jose police shooting their own anti-bias trainer in the testicles; knocking over an old man who’s still in critical condition as a result (yeah the one Trump theorized must be Antifa); teargassing children; pointing weapons at other small children; and generally showing us that the only people the police protect are the police. They struck the match that lit the bonfire. Because they thought they could not themselves burn, and that they were indispensable. They’re wrong on both counts.

The Black Lives Matter movement itself has been building since 2013.

However, as Stan Grant highlights in regards to the recognition of Australia’s indigenous people in the consitution, such success can be a long time coming. This is something Doug Belshaw touches on in his reading of Guy Debord’s Comments on the Society of the Spectacle

Here is the problem for the person, or group of people, wishing to smash the spectacle, to dismantle it, to take it apart. It must be done in one go, rather than piecemeal. Otherwise, the spectacle has too much capacity to self-repair.

Listened ‘The way we get through this is together’: mutual aid under coronavirus | Rebecca Solnit from the Guardian

There is a long, rough road ahead. Without radical change, the way food, shelter, medical care and education are produced and distributed will be more unfair and more devastating than before. It seems likely that conservatives will argue for brutal austerity and libertarian abandonment of the most desperate, while the rest of us are going to have to argue for some form of post-capitalism that decouples meeting basic needs from wage labour – perhaps the kind of basic income that Spain is planning to introduce.

The devastating economic effect of the pandemic will make innovation essential, whether it is rethinking higher education or food distribution, or how to fund news media. The Green New Deal offers a model for how to move forward on jobs and leave fossil fuels behind as that sector founders and climate catastrophe looms. Protests in many fields – including nurses demanding PPE, and warehouse, delivery and food-service workers protesting against exploitative or unsafe working conditions – suggests that workers’ organisations may be gaining strength.

Bookmarked Rebecca Solnit: On Letting Go of Certainty in a Story That Never Ends (Literary Hub)

Familiarity is a life raft or some floating trash we might mistake for a life raft, but the task isn’t to try to bellyflop onto the flotsam; it’s to swim. We are in the ocean and time is fluid and the waves will keep coming and there is a distinct possibility that this is okay. A little like Li Po’s poem about Chuang Tzu dreaming he’s a butterfly dreaming he’s Chuang Tzu, we are maybe dolphins dreaming that the  clarity and dry solidity of the desert is our natural habitat rather than where we’d scorch and wither, are beings under Prince Andrei’s illimitable sky sometimes yearning to be back in the box of the familiar and the predictable, sometimes, or sometimes that’s the house of love and the space we share with those we care about. Sometimes the right story is a bridge between the illimitable sky and the comfort of the intimate and an invitation to travel freely between them.

Rebecca Solnit reflects on the uncertainty associated with the current crisis and the solace she has found in fairy tales.

Underneath all the trappings of talking animals and magical objects and fairy godmothers are tough stories about people who are marginal, neglected, impoverished, undervalued, and isolated, and their struggle to find their place and their people.

For Solnit, these stories can help us contextualize the time and color it with brightness and hope.

It turns out that the powers that matter are attentiveness, innovative thinking, and alliance-building. They change their fate, which is to say it’s not fate or destiny at all, but an unwritten future that they seize authorship over. They don’t know what will happen, but they launch into uncertainty with the energy of participants.

This reminds me of Ed Yong’s discussion of the problem of narrative when confronting the current crisis, as well as Doug Belshaw’s return to Stoicism to ground himself.

Bookmarked Rebecca Solnit: How Change Happens (Literary Hub)

It’s easy now to assume that one’s perspectives on race, gender, orientation, and the rest are signs of inherent virtue, but a lot of ideas currently in circulation are gifts that arrived recently, through the labors of others.

Remembering that people made these ideas, as surely as people made the buildings we live in and the roads we travel on, helps us remember that, first, change is possible, and second, it’s our good luck to live in the wake of this change rather than asserting our superiority to those who came before the new structures, and maybe even to acknowledge that we have not arrived at a state of perfect enlightenment, because there is more change to come, more that we do not yet recognize that will be revealed.

In an adapted introduction to Whose Story Is It?, Rebecca Solnit explains how change and ideas spread. Often we overlook the past that the present is built upon.
Bookmarked In Patriarchy No One Can Hear You Scream: Rebecca Solnit on Jeffrey Epstein and the Silencing Machine (Literary Hub)

Some of that might is monetary, some of it is the corrupt power structures in the financial, political, and entertainment sectors that gave us Fox’s Roger Ailes and CBS’s Les Moonves and New York state’s Eric Schneiderman and Baylor’s football team so many more monsters who seemed to see the abuse of women as part of their puissance. Some of it—quite a lot of it—is gender. There are lots of good reasons for the courts to prosecute individual cases, but justice will not be done until might is no longer right, and power that includes the power of being heard and valued is distributed equally.

Rebecca Solnit discusses the culture that often surrounds rape. Discussing accusations against Jeffrey Epstein, Harvey Weinstein, Brett Kavanagh, R Kelly, Donald Trump and an Eagle Scout, Solnit ties together a web of power and connection that enable such actions to occur. As she states:

It takes a village to silence a victim, and there are a lot of willing villagers.

Ida Skibenes sums up the situation:

Bookmarked Rebecca Solnit: When the Hero is the Problem (Literary Hub)

Our largest problems won’t be solved by heroes. They’ll be solved, if they are, by movements, coalitions, civil society. The climate movement, for example, has been first of all a mass effort, and if figures like Bill McKibben stand out—well he stands out as the cofounder of a global climate action group whose network is in 188 countries and the guy who keeps saying versions of “The most effective thing you can do about climate as an individual is stop being an individual.”

Rebecca Solnit unpacks the problem of heroes when trying to drive change. In part this reminds me of some of the arguments in Douglas Rushkoff’s Team Human, especially the challenge of narrative. It also captures what Martin Lukacs describes as the ‘con’ of individual action associated with change.

via Katexic