"To us all towns
are one, all men our kin.
|Home||Whats New||Trans State Nation||One World||Unfolding Consciousness||Comments||Search|
in THE AGE OF EMPIRE
The Optimism of Uncertainty
Howard Zinn , 6 November 2004
author of A People's History of the United States
[see also Howard Zinn and Howard Zinn ZNet Home Page]
"..the struggle for justice should never be abandoned because of the apparent overwhelming power of those who have the guns and the money and who seem invincible in their determination to hold on to it. That apparent power has, again and again, proved vulnerable to human qualities less measurable than bombs and dollars: moral fervor, determination, unity, organization, sacrifice, wit, ingenuity, courage, patience - whether by blacks in Alabama and South Africa, peasants in El Salvador, Nicaragua and Vietnam, or workers and intellectuals in Poland, Hungary and the Soviet Union itself. No cold calculation of the balance of power need deter people who are persuaded that their cause is just....We don't have to engage in grand, heroic actions to participate in the process of change. Small acts, when multiplied by millions of people, can transform the world.."
In this awful world where the efforts of caring people
often pale in comparison to what is done by those who
have power, how do I manage to stay involved and
I am totally confident not that the world will get better, but that we should not give up the game before all the cards have been played. The metaphor is deliberate; life is a gamble. Not to play is to foreclose any chance of winning. To play, to act, is to create at least a possibility of changing the world.
What leaps out from the history of the past hundred
years is its utter unpredictability. A revolution to
overthrow the czar of Russia, in that most sluggish of
semi-feudal empires, not only startled the most advanced
imperial powers but took Lenin himself by surprise and
sent him rushing by train to Petrograd. Who would have
predicted the bizarre shifts of World War II--the
Nazi-Soviet pact (those embarrassing photos of von
Ribbentrop and Molotov shaking hands), and the German
Army rolling through Russia, apparently invincible,
causing colossal casualties, being turned back at the
gates of Leningrad, on the western edge of Moscow, in the
streets of Stalingrad, followed by the defeat of the
German army, with Hitler huddled in his Berlin bunker,
waiting to die?
I have tried hard to match my friends in their pessimism about the world (is it just my friends?), but I keep encountering people who, in spite of all the evidence of terrible things happening everywhere, give me hope. Especially young people, in whom the future rests. Wherever I go, I find such people. And beyond the handful of activists there seem to be hundreds, thousands, more who are open to unorthodox ideas. But they tend not to know of one another's existence, and so, while they persist, they do so with the desperate patience of Sisyphus endlessly pushing that boulder up the mountain.
We don't have to engage in grand, heroic actions to
participate in the process of change. Small acts, when
multiplied by millions of people, can transform the
world. Even when we don't "win," there is fun and
fulfillment in the fact that we have been involved, with
other good people, in something worthwhile. We need
What we choose to emphasize in this complex history
will determine our lives. If we see only the worst, it
destroys our capacity to do something. If we remember
those times and places--and there are so many--where
people have behaved magnificently, this gives us the
energy to act, and at least the possibility of sending
this spinning top of a world in a different direction.
And if we do act, in however small a way, we don't have
to wait for some grand utopian future. The future is an
infinite succession of presents, and to live now as we
think human beings should live, in defiance of all that
is bad around us, is itself a marvellous victory.