Those of you who know about Cracked.com probably know it as a platform for wacky, even sophomoric, humor writing. However: from time to time, their contributors sneak in content with some real wisdom. When reading a recent post, I came across a few paragraphs that seem really, really relevant to the kind of cultural activism many of us are involved in as organizers in the secular movement. The title of the section gives the short take:
America was born from a revolution. It's in our DNA. If you want your blockbuster movie to get asses in the seats, make it about a few common folk taking down an advanced, oppressive force. In the third act, when the hero nobly declines to kill the Emperor, that's OK -- somebody else will toss him down a bottomless shaft. What matters is the unquestioned assumption that abrupt and/or violent upheaval of the current system is the only way to affect change, and that anything less is a de facto stamp of approval for the status quo.
In reality, sudden upheaval usually results in an even more brutal asshole taking power (See: the Middle East, China, Russia ... most of the world throughout history, in fact). This is because the people who shout loudest for abrupt change -- particularly those who promise to restore the greatness of the nation to some imagined idyllic past -- are often either short-sighted idealists or power-hungry sociopaths looking to exploit scared people. It's the political version of a get-rich-quick scheme.
But real change is usually as tedious as watching a game of chess played by two fungus colonies. Slavery didn't vanish with the stroke of Abe Lincoln's pen; abolitionists had been chipping away for 45 damned years, changing public opinion inch by inch. The gay rights movement has been banging its head against the wall since the 1890s and still hasn't broken all the way through. A lawsuit here, a board meeting there, a petition here, a city council candidate there. A step forward, a step back. The kind of grinding, unsatisfying slog that wouldn't even get a montage in a movie adaptation.
In other words: Small gains add up. The failure to make a huge win every calendar year doesn't mean we're somehow not making progress. And the sex appeal of dismantling the current system, in order to build a brave new world, may be distracting us from the wholly intolerable cost of such revolution.