A Long-Term Look At Environmental, Political, and Social Issues, From The Perspective Of Michigan’s Oldest (and Most Optimistic) Tree Species
By Marvin Roberson
I’m a single, (late) middle aged, crusty, cynical fellow who lives in the middle of nowhere. I was described by friends as “the youngest old curmudgeon” they’d ever met, before I was 30 (they still do, but now they leave off “youngest”). I’ve been doing this for over 25 years, and I’m often close to burnout. I live a very solitary life - partly by my choice, but partly, it seems, as a consensus decision by most of the rest of society.
So why does my boss call me “Marvy Sunshine”?
Because in almost every discussion about the tragic state of some political issue or other, after she has described some setback, I describe it as a long-term positive development (remember, we’re looking at things here from the perspective of a tree which lives 800 years and which colonizes sites for many thousands of years).
Much of the progress we’ve made in environmental, social, and political issues seems under attack, with significant attempts to roll that progress back - even before last week. We’ve seen attempts to roll back progress in voting rights, environmental protection, women’s rights, LBGT issues, and a whole host of others.
But what is the common denominator in every attempt to roll back progress, whether successful or not? Progress. There can be no attempts to undo Progressive accomplishments without first actually achieving those accomplishments. We only have to protect gains if there actually are gains.
In most cases, I describe the very fact that we’re seeing attacks on progress as a good thing, because it means that we have progress to protect.
As an example, take Transgender rights. We’ve seen legislative attempts to restrict the civil rights of Transgender citizens, especially teens. While that’s a terrible development, look at it in the long view. When I was in high school, most people did not know, and probably would not have believed, that Transgender citizens existed. The fact that state legislatures are attempting to restrict the rights of Transgender citizens means that they are acknowledging the existence of, and issues affecting, this group of people. In the long run, that’s huge progress.
8 years ago, every major Presidential candidate was on record supporting the “Defense of Marriage” Act, which outlawed gay marriage. We may forget this, but that group included Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama. This summer, I had a number of same-sex friends get married, legally and formally. Their right to do so may come under serious attack soon, and we need to defend that right. However, that attack is occurring on the progress we have made.
We’ve all heard about “the pendulum swing” in politics, first Progressive, then back to the Right. However, I would argue that since the Dark Ages, the pendulum, while swinging back and forth, has slowly but inexorably moved in a Progressive direction. What followed the Dark Ages? The Enlightenment. The gains in scientific understanding, democratic processes, and basic human rights echo through today.
Now, while I believe that the pendulum is inching left over the long term (the Tsuga’s View), there are clearly intermittent setbacks, sometimes pretty far - witness the Spanish Inquisition. Last Wednesday, I was reminded of quote from an old Monty Python bit - “Well of course we didn’t see the Spanish Inquisition coming - no one saw the Spanish Inquisition coming!”.
But I don’t mean to make light of real suffering, caused by these attacks. Nor do I mean to minimize how serious they are, or suggest we don’t need to fight against them. Some of the attacks are very serious, some have horrific consequences, and some may be permanent.
In the 1960s, Klan activity in the south was a pushback against real progress in civil rights. That doesn’t diminish the horror of lynchings, church bombings, or the murder of civil rights workers.
Today, as described above, legislative attacks on Transgender rights are an indication of the fact that real progress has been made in that area. That doesn’t reduce the sense of exclusion and alienation, and sometimes physical danger, that these citizens endure as a result of those attacks.
The pushback on global climate change might very well have far-reaching, undoable, permanent catastrophic consequences.
After the election, I saw lots of “buck up and fight the good fight” messages from my Progressive friends. I was more discouraged than that. What I found most disheartening was not the prospect of President Trump - horrifying as that may be.
What disturbed me the most was the fact that over 59 million fellow citizens saw a candidate who overtly promoted bigoted, racist, misogynist policies, and thought that voting for him was a fine idea. After reading many of the emails regarding continuing the fight, I said to a friend that I felt much closer to hightailing it to New Zealand than many of y colleagues. I emailed my boss this sentiment, and said “Marvy Sunshine has left the building”.
However, that was premature. I began looking at the issues with the Tsuga’s View, and realized that we’re still moving in the right direction, even with the coming conflagration. Part of that was the realization that the horrible things we’re seeing from our fellow Americans aren’t new, and weren’t caused by Trump. Those attitudes were there all along, we just didn’t see them. Trump simply exposed them, which now allows us to address them, whereas before they were below the surface and not visible.
I’m not pretending that everything is sweetness and light. I’m not suggesting we don’t need to be vigilant, and defend vigorously the gains we’ve made. But I will suggest that we place these things in the context of the long term. On almost every Progressive issue there is, compare where we are now to where we were 50 or 100 years ago, and you’ll see that we’ve made incredible, and sometimes unthinkable strides.
A friend recently said “It’s so frustrating - it just feels like 3 steps forward and 2 steps back”. That’s true, and it is frustrating. However, when you look at the statement “3 steps forward and 2 steps back” - do the math.
That’s the Tsuga’s View.
In the next installment of “The Tsuga’s View”, Gloria Steinem is one of my all-time heroes. However, I describe what my 15 year old niece gets that Ms Steinem doesn’t.