One of the tools I’ve been using this week to cope with the steady stream of chaotic political news is playing with scales of distance and time:
How many light-years between Earth and—oh, I don’t know—Pegasus.
How long human history is.
How short recorded history is in relation to the age of the Earth.
How much public discourse about marriage has changed since 2007.
How little public discourse about race has changed since 1957.
How the US electorate swings between major parties about every eight years.
How the last four years of my life have rushed by.
How the last two weeks feel like a lot longer than four years.
I get it when historians review the modulations of social change: slavery, then Reconstruction, then Jim Crow, then desegregation, then the dismantling of the commons and the public services that have been part of it.
Reviewing these moments and movements from a safe temporal distance, even if only for a little while, lets me zoom out from the people, whole people with textured lives whose experiences—and suffering—lie behind each neat era label.
At the same time, I also get the reminder that there is no linear progress.
Even when conditions are ideal, there’ll be gains and losses and plateaus and breakthroughs and none of them will be regular. “Scaling back” when a trainee meets their limit means giving their body time to reset and their trainer time to plan a new approach to their goals.
Perhaps turn-taking through time is also part of the social change process.
The US electorate’s latest swing has already meant suffering for many, many people. It also brings four to eight years in which we, if we survive, can plan new approaches to our goals, new ways to describe them to people who don’t share them yet, new ways to express our values, new coalitions to build, and new strategies for taking action together.
If we can’t avoid the moment, we might as well use it. What will we do with this time?