Fatalism Ate Our Democracy: “Today. Tomorrow. Always”

Forget it, nothing I change changes anything

“Walk It Back,” The National

On social media and in real life (IRL), I am experiencing a pattern.

For more than three decades now, mainstream education reformers have told me that there is nothing we can do about childhood poverty, racism, sexism, etc., so we must “fix” our schools and those students struggling because of all those inequities we simply cannot change.

Every time a mass shooting happens, people wave their arms and tell me that gun laws won’t stop violence; there simply is nothing we can do.

Over the last several months as I have witnessed my mother suffering in the wake of a stroke exponentially worsened by the U.S. healthcare and medical insurance monstrosities, even healthcare professionals respond to arguments for single-payer universal healthcare with “Good luck with that!” Never going to happen.

Fatalism appears more pervasive that the new national hobby of staring at a smart phone—joined only by the long-standing practice of most people existing as a heaping mound of contradiction.

The “nothing we can do about guns” crowd tends to be the same people who do want to regulate a woman’s ability to choose her reproduction options, do want demand that people show proper types of uniform patriotism, do staunchly advocate for the death penalty, mass incarceration, and militarized policing—but there is *sigh* just nothing we can do about gun violence because of that darn Second Amendment and, you know, people would still kill each other with knives and baseball bats.

Fatalism, then, is a convenient cover for those seeking ways to impose their political will on others; and thus, Paul Freire asserts: “I have always rejected fatalism. I prefer rebelliousness because it affirms my status as a person who has never given in to the manipulations and strategies designed to reduce the human person to nothing.”

Fatalism’s mantra—”Don’t bother!”—”reduce[s] the human person to nothing”—it de-democratizes, dehumanizes.

Like Freire, James Baldwin, then, expresses the antithesis to fatalism, hope: “I love America more than any other country in this world, and, exactly for this reason, I insist on the right to criticize her perpetually” (Notes of a Native Son, 1955).

“[T]o criticize…perpetually” is to cast off “Don’t bother,” to recognize that our ideals have merit but that we have failed to reach those ideals—and then we still have the capacity to do so.

And so I come back to the U.S. as a disturbing outlier in gun violence. These gruesome realities are not about the enormity of how a people can at least decrease the senseless loss of life that comes with our gun-lust; but this debate is about political and cultural will.

For a people seemingly obsessed with choice, we are far too willing to choose fatalism when it suits us, to become passive and “o, well” when the consequences somehow seem to be in someone else’s interest.

And for a people so eager to shout “American exceptionalism!” I wonder how we can ignore that many other countries insure all their citizens, have reduced their gun violence, and have created a culture that genuinely seeks to honor the meek and weak and vulnerable.

Freire recognized that the “freedom that moves us, that makes us take risks”—risks for a better world—is in fact a threat to those who believe the status quo is worth maintaining. Those beholden to the status quo—good for some, unfair to many—call for “conformity in the face of situations considered to be irreversible because of destiny”—thus, gun laws won’t change anything, or we’ll never have universal healthcare.

And a cousin to our fostered fatalism is our ahistorical mind, one that clings to traditional history but somehow rejects “revisionist” history:

To the degree that the historical part if not “problematized” so as to be critically understood, tomorrow becomes simply the perpetuation of today. Something that will be because it will be, inevitably. To that degree, there is no room for choice. There is only room for well-behaved submission to fate. Today. Tomorrow. Always.

Our fatalism has eroded our souls as a people, consumed our democracy.

We are a people more offended by black athletes kneeling during the national anthem than free people slaughtered while attending a music concert, children slaughtered while attending school.

Today. Tomorrow. Always?