The Handmaid’s Tale of Impossible Choices

I’ve been late to the whole Margaret Atwood’s train. But I finally caught it. Fiction, I usually say, is the realm of the complicated. If we want to learn what it is to be in an impossible situation without going into it ourselves, fiction is the way to do it. We identify with the characters, we empathize. And we learn.MV5BMzEzNTIzMDk2OF5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwNjIzODQxMjI@._V1_UY1200_CR90,0,630,1200_AL_

The old dilemma of Liberty is one of paradox. If we have freedom to choose or not-to-choose, we have it as long as we choose. When we decide not to choose, we relinquish that freedom. Others choose for us. As Popper would put it, the same goes for tolerance. If we want to remain tolerant, we need to stay intolerant to intolerance. Not allow abuse.

Because values matter. Moral coherence  matters. That is not a left or right argument. Morality is not the monopoly of traditionalists, conservatives or marxists. Quite the opposite. Liberalism is all about values as well. It’s about freedom. Freedom of speech, freedom of religion, freedom to choose, freedom to live your sexuality, freedom to associate with whomever you want, freedom to be what you want to be. So this is a call to all of us. There are things taken for granted that are simply wrong.

I hear every day: ‘all politicians are corrupt’. No, they are not. And ‘There are worst things than corruption’. No, there aren’t many. Corruption means we all pay but only the richest and the amoral (not the same thing) get what they want. It means law can be broken with impunity. It means we can keep the illusions that politicians and other officials represent us, but they in fact represent themselves and the ones that pay them. This is not okay.

I hear every day: All States spy on their people. That is not acceptable. Security does not depend on pure obedience, political submission or abdication of a private life. But all these things are convenient to those in power, aren’t they? So spying on your fellow citizens is a practice that is corrupt and should be opposed.

I hear every day: all men are pigs; all women are bitches. Whatever this may mean, it’s wrong and it’s not something we should simply accept.

I hear every day: Democracy is the best of systems.

Yes, democracy is the best of systems. If we vote. If we stand up. If we fight for what’s important. Adolf Hitler was elected to office, and all he needed were people like Eichmann, passive, egotistic, opportunistic and unwilling to take part in the debate, to be able to do the unthinkable. If democracy is to work, we have to stand up.

hmt_01We are losing great artists like Kevin Spacey and Louis C.K. not only because of their abhorrent behavior but also because they were nurtured by a system that allowed their behavior. And all those who stood by and did nothing are part of that system. A system of tolerance towards the intolerable.

But it’s easier not to take part. It’s easier to choose not-to-choose. Choosing means leaving a place of comfort, maybe risking our own lives and those whom we love. But what’s the alternative? Watch all we believe in disappear without a trace? What we need to know is that we’re not alone and that small gestures repeated a thousand times mean more than they seem.

And that’s why it’s important to know a woman called June, who is put against her will in the position of not-to-choose. A position where she is systematically raped and tortured and has to remain polite, submissive, obedient. And then she doesn’t. And we learn.

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