A Thought Experiment

This is a thought experiment, an exercise in imagination. No, it’s not touchy-feely, and there’s nothing mystical about it. Imagination is a precious capacity we humans have (I suspect and hope other animals do too), although we often waste it on petty or even nefarious purposes. Only children and artists (and some scientists and inventors) stay in constant touch with the profound power of imagination.

This time I need your cooperation, in fact your participation, in the blog post. So please concentrate as you read. I need you to really commit to it, as an act of political will, as I’ve been doing, writing these words.

Imagine you wake up one morning, and for the first time in so very long feel glad to be awake. In fact, only now do you realize how truly miserable you’ve been—and you thought you’d known that!

Imagine you go for a walk, and you’re startled to see people actually smiling at each other on the street, perfect strangers are grinning and giving each other high-fives. There, over there, see? That group of older men sitting on a park bench? They’re laughing and slapping each other on the back! And there, there! Those boisterous middle-aged office workers, women and men, pouring out of a bar companionably, drinks in hand, toasting each other and toasting passersby in the street! Over here, too, see? A spontaneous circle dance has broken out, a cheerfully chaotic combination of a Jewish Hora and a Texas square-dance! And there, is that a march or a parade—all young women, some pregnant, some toting babies, some in full butch array, singing and smiling, arm in arm? And that pair of young lovers, her in a turban and kente cloth, him in a business suit, kissing hungrily, oblivious to everyone, locked in an embrace right in the middle of the street. Look at that truck driver leaning out of the cab window of his semi yelling, “Some day, huh?” A young guy in a wheelchair spins himself around like an athlete and whoops, Yeehaw! On the corner, a woman with what sure sounds like a classically trained voice is singing to the tune of Bernstein’s’ “I am pretty” from West Side Story, but with her own lyrics: I feel silly. I feel happy. I feel silly and happy and free! The streets are filled with crowds, and you can hear excited chattering in your own language and in lots of languages you can’t understand—although you know from the smiles and hand-clapping and breakout dancing exactly what everybody is saying. And the kids! They’re everywhere, kids let out of school, running and shoving and hopping and shouting with full-throated glee!

Then you hear . . . what sounds like . . . is it a roar? Yes, a roar from a great distance, a roar . . . that’s growing louder. It sounds like a mythical dragon, or . . . or hundreds of trains all rushing toward the same station. But strangely, it isn’t frightening.

Then gradually you realize that what you’re hearing are cheers, great cheers going up from London’s Trafalgar Square and the Place de la Concorde in Paris and Beijing’s Tiananmen Square and Kremlin Square in Moscow and St. Peters Square in Rome and Tahrir Square in Cairo and all the Plazas Bolivar across Latin America. My god, this . . . this is elation! This lightness you feel is like floating, as if a great flattening punishing burden has lifted, as if Sisyphus has finally put the stone down. Relief. Energy! You feel drunk with it. It’s as heady as being in love. It’s so unfamiliar, yet you remember it as oddly, deeply recognizable.

It’s joy.

Imagine all this.

Imagine it’s November 7, and finally dawning on you that we actually won.

We won the House of Representatives.

We won the Senate, by a slim margin, but a margin!

We won every governorship up for election!

We won over half of the state legislatures, with the numbers still coming in!

Imagine the relief the lightness the feeling of hope returning, hope for everything that really matters: the planet the creatures that breathe and fly and crawl and swim and read and write and laugh and sing!

But here is the point: You are afraid to let yourself truly imagine this.

You hold back from the full imagining, from fear, fear of having your hope mutilated. You feel you dare not risk imagining real hope. To do so would leave yourself open, and you feel you must protect yourself and lower your expectations. You don’t believe in superstition, but you find yourself trembling with superstitious anxiety that if we let ourselves dare imagine triumph, we will fail. Earned victory has been stolen from us before, bloodying our innocence and leaving us scarred by political PTSD. Now, if we muster only shrunken hopes and cower in acts of timid imagining, maybe we can hide, maybe we’ll be overlooked, be safe from the pain, safe from being devastated again. Let others take risks and pay the price, they’re not our concern. We’ve learned our lesson. We’ve learned what Europe learned in the 1930s, what Europe chanted to the rhythm of jackboots.

This is what they want. They want us to fear even imagining winning.

If we can’t risk imagining that we can defeat them, then how can we defeat them? If we can’t dare imagine winning, then and only then will they have won, don’t you see?

They will have robbed us of our historic inheritance as Americans: our audacity. That is far worse than stealing an election. They will have stolen our selves as a free people, stolen our souls as human beings.

So we must make this imagining an act of will, political will and moral will. We must break the fever of superstition inflicted on us and infecting us, and instead—whatever happens—we must dare deploy the full force of our capacity for imagination.

This is a vast and profound act, because imagination precedes reality. It always has and always will.

Imagine feeling that this exquisite blue marble, our world, has a future again—even yes yes with all the work ahead—we have “somedays” again, we have tomorrows!

Imagine feeling Independence Day fireworks arc and blaze glowing supernovas in your heart. Imagine pride swell through you, a life-giving transfusion of resolve, because democracy spoke and we were its voice.

Now own that feeling. And now go do what will make it happen.