Comments such as, “It’s not our business, we are not Americans,” or, “You worry too much,” are as ignorant, unempathetic and upsetting as Trump himself. Everyone is unsure of how the situation will play out. News media and observers can only come up with possible scenarios. World leaders are now uncertain about the way to position themselves towards the temperamental president. We are in a state of uncertainty; there are legit reasons to feel afraid. I am sick of being told that there is nothing to worry about. I am upset knowing some (or even many) are busy trying to invalidate my fear.
But they are not the worst, at least to me. Immediately after Trump’s winning, I found many of my friends threw comments showing their disbelief in the future, such as, “I have lost faith in humanity.” Or: “Humanity is doomed to fail.”
It was not my first time encountering this type of comments. The recent rise of racism and religious extremism in Indonesia also lead people to make such pronouncement. I am sure similar remarks have been previously made in response to other tragic events throughout the world, such as the Brexit victory and the rise of racist politicians like Le Pen or the sadistic President Duterte. As much as I would like to understand why such pessimistic view of the world appears, I find those statements even more hurtful than Trump’s victory itself.
I am a homosexual and a non-believer living in a developing country with terrible human rights track record and growing religious extremism. I am also a survivor of physical and verbal domestic violence and numerous sexual assaults. I am aware of how patriarchy and basically hegemonic masculinity hurt both women and men of all ages. I am aware of the subtlest to the most apparent forms of discrimination and alienation. Put it simply, I am too familiar with shaming, discrimination and injustices.
Every day I have to worry about what I wear and check whether it is “too gay” for others to handle. I live in constant anxiety to hide my sexuality (and my partner) from my family. I gave up dancing a long time ago for fear of being called a “faggot.” My identities, combined with my unfortunate birthplace, limits my choices and my ability to feel satisfied with life. The last thing I want to hear from others is that the future is not going to side with me and my kind. This type of statement is basically an act of hopelessness down my throat. It does not matter how truthful the statement is, I simply cannot accept them. I cannot accept the idea that there is nothing I can do about cruelties. I cannot bear the thought of having to stay alive in a world not worth living. Optimism is my only path.
Saying that humanity is doomed is unempathetic. You are feeling sorry for me but not with me. You fail to relate to my struggle; you simply pity me. And when you give up on the world, you give up on me.
Saying that humanity is doomed normalizes my misery. You take injustice as an everyday reality, instead of a deviation from the supposed humanity. You take it so casually that you accept them as an inevitable byproduct of life. You are basically saying that we are predetermined to suffer regardless of what we deserve and our attempts to obtain them.
Saying that humanity is doomed removes the required motivation to challenge the status quo. No movement has ever been formed by hopelessness. It is hope and empathy that galvanize people into action. Cliché but true. No matter how bleak the future may seem, I have to think the opposite. It is cruel to expect me to stand still and wait for the world to turn against me.
Optimism is not something you grant depending on the condition of the world. Optimism is not conditional. Optimism is simply required. The actual question is not whether the world is doomed, but how we should perceive it instead. Our perception matters most.
I also believe that the dominant image of violence in our heads are exaggerated and illusory. I will lay my case below and try to leave you with a good note.
First, humankind has always made progresses. We now live in the most peaceable time in human history. This case is eloquently argued by Steven Pinker through his book titled ‘The Better Angels of Our Nature’. He showed how violence, such as homicide, lynching, racial pogroms, nation wars and cruel cultural practices, have been in decline. Women’s and other minorities’ rights continue to advance in the past several decades (or even centuries).
With all due respect to oppressed minorities, I am not trying to mislead you into believing that the world is peaceful enough and nothing is left to be done. But we need to remind ourselves, once in a while, of how the present is less sinister than the past, and we, mankind, have made remarkable achievements which were mere utopia to our ancestors.
Secondly, too many times news media disproportionately represent violence. We are bombarded with news about violence on a daily basis. Indeed, violence is newsworthy and profitable. What news media company refused to cover and sensationalize Trump’s racist remarks? Sadly, the antidotes to hate, which are usually ordinary benevolent acts of kindness and love, most of the time fail to make it to mainstream media, depriving us of the other side of the coin.
Thirdly, we are biologically wired to remember fear and images of violence strongly. There is an evolutionary purpose for it: survival. Fear and traumas are our biological machinery to protect ourselves from future threats. Tragic events are strongly patched in our brain while delightful ones are taken less seriously as mere “how the world is supposed to be.” In consequence, we are busy worrying about the not-yet-ideal and fail to pay gratitude to the many progresses we have scored.
At the end, there is always a reason to believe that the world is doomed, and there is also a reason to believe otherwise. The debate becomes shallow and will get us nowhere.
The tale of two wolves, a native American parable, may solve the deadlock. According to this tale, there are always two wolves inside of us: the good and the bad. The one who wins, is the one you feed. Would you rather feed your sense of hopelessness or hope? The decision is in your hands. For all I know, pessimism is self-sabotaging and self-fulfilling. So, which would you choose?
Ibrahim Panji Indra is an undergraduate student of criminology currently working on his final paper about hegemonic masculinity and discourse on LGBT in Indonesian news media. He is captivated by a wide range of issues, including gender and sexuality, human rights and environment.