A falling knife has no handle: 2020

I’m sorry to report that the knife is America and also our lives.

When you drop a real knife, a sharp one, you need to jump away from it immediately. Instinct tells you to catch it, as if it were a baby or a scoop of ice cream; something precious and splattable. But a knife is going to seriously cut you every time you try, and if you miss catching it and are standing too close to where it lands, it could reverberate off the floor and stab you anyway. Statistically, it is a Bad Time.

When the knife is the society you exist within, the instinct to prevent the fall is just as strong, and I’d argue irresistible. Of course society is a precious, splattable thing, but the damage it inflicts is also as real as a cleaver.

No metaphor is perfect, but this comes close. In January and February the knife was skittering towards the edge and it’s been in free fall since March (in America); it began whistling down with George Floyd’s murder, it reached terminal velocity at the election. We keep trying to catch it, and it keeps slicing us to the bone. I’m worried about when it lands.*

We can’t not try, though, can we. After each attempt, there’s a new (desperate) reason to catch the knife, to stop it. To recover and go back.

But I don’t think there is a way to go back. So many things will never be the same, and most of them are for the best (not the hundreds of thousands of senseless deaths, not ever). Demanding equality is always brutally bloody; no one in power ever truly wants to change their status. But the picture we all have, of the knife resting easily on the counter is not an image we can restore. America as it was lead to America today. An America that is being torn apart by racist traitorous hateful people in power, who were put there through our own complacency with the knife and the counter. We got comfortable with the idea of health care tied to employment. We mistook the self-help industry as a necessary thing, rather than a tool to further disenfranchise people without enough support. We didn’t rise up against for-profit prisons or cash bail. We didn’t take the opportunities presented to us on a daily basis to be anti-racist.

The America we had refused to be ready for a pandemic. It has continued to refuse to be ready for ending a pandemic. That’s not an America we can return to. A country that is placidly ready for three thousand human beings to die every single day is not a country at all. It is a genocide factory. Valuing corporations over humans means that we’ll bail out corporations and not pay humans, who will spread the virus, to stay home. The American government might have failed us, but we have had our part in sealing our own fate. Every time someone didn’t want to speak up for an injustice they saw, when it wasn’t an injustice personally afflicting themselves, we honed the knife to a razor’s edge. When we forgot about caring for people who are not ourselves, and chose to bolster our own advantages, unfairly distributed by luck, we sharpened the knife further still. The knife has been lying to you, and you are the knife.

So we are left trying to catch the knife, when every edge is sharp, but the alternative is to abandon what shreds of democracy and decency might be left (that are left), with our own shredded hands or suffer the reverberation forever. We know there are things here worth saving, and we have to save and value them, instead of putting them second to profit. The hard-won scars from continually trying to catch the American knife are worthy of honoring, but we have to make it through. And we have to do that by not giving up, even though it hurts and everything is bad.

*I think one can reasonably argue that the knife has actually always been falling ever since there has been any form of inequality, and I will hear that argument! I have an extremely privileged perspective.

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