Our Extreme Misfortune

Our unfortunate tendency
to believe the best
while sitting out
potential conflicts

leaves us seated
in defense
when the knife is pulled
to stab us.

In our back,
across our neck,
following our lifeline
through our wrists
and up our arms,

we cannot recover
from wanton violence
given license
by the very act
of not believing
there’s worse to come.

But playing cynic
to any good
doesn’t help us
escape our fate,

When the end comes
by our own selfish blow,
the fiends waiting behind us
drop their weapons
and start to applaud.

#NaPoWriMo 2017 Day 22


This morning I attended the local March for Science rally and was struck by how little I feel I can contribute to this cause, and how insignificant my efforts seem to be. What did I actually do this morning? I stood in a crowd and clapped periodically for about an hour and a half. I also donated money to the local cause and purchased a T-shirt, but these seem like such tiny gestures. There’s an argument to be made about tiny gestures by the masses becoming big movements that reshape our world, but I’m not finding it easy to zoom out. I’m scared by recent events. I hide in my apartment. I’m cynical about the extent of rational and scientific thinking in the world, and I’m upset by the lack of diversity I now see in every corner.

I’ve believed the best about people and our future together for many years, but my beliefs have been shattered during the past year. I’ve witnessed those social movements and identities I identify with fracture along political and philosophical lines. I’ve discovered too many gay white men who are racist, sexist, and even homophobic and transphobic; feminists who exclude women of color and are transphobic; transhumanists asserting bigoted right-wing values; liberals and conservatives alike spouting anti-science beliefs and pseudoscience; technologists focusing on advertising, marketing, and revenue instead of inclusiveness and the big challenges facing humanity; social scientists and academics rejecting science, scientists rejecting inclusiveness; systems and institutional cultures turning a blind eye to bad behavior including discrimination and sexual harassment; and all of us losing ourselves to 24-7-365 entertainment, fake news, and technological distraction at our fingertips.

But I don’t want to be a cynic! In the first poem I wrote tonight, one that just didn’t work out, I tried to explore how cynicism, dark and gritty reboots, and other attempts to darken and gray our outlook on everything is often driven by bigotry. The intention is not brutal honesty but the undermining of any good at all, so that cynics can impose their own bigotries on a fallen world. The result would be a wasteland of people so beaten down that all they can do is nod their heads in affirmation of the horrors visited upon them. It seems that these particular cynics want us to stop hoping, to give up, to accept that we live in a dark and gritty gray world of brutal violence and suffering, so that their oppression can continue unrestrained, unpunished, and unresisted.

Yeah, the poem above is dark. But I hope you read into it that these are only two extremes. The narrator has to describe them so that they can finally see that there are alternative approaches, some of which might actually save all of our asses, and the planet besides.

Published by

Richard Leis

Richard Leis is a fiction writer and poet, with his first published poem forthcoming later in 2017 from Impossible Archetype. His essays about fairy tales and technology have been published on Tiny Donkey. Richard is also the Downlink Lead for the High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment (HiRISE) team at the University of Arizona. He monitors images of the Martian surface taken by the HiRISE camera located on board the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter in orbit around Mars and helps ensure they process successfully and are validated for quick release to the science community and public. Once upon a time, Richard wrote and edited the science and technology news and commentary website Frontier Channel, hosted the RADIO Frontier Channel podcast, and organized transhumanist clubs. Follow Richard on his website (richardleis.com), on Goodreads (richardleis), his Micro.blog (@richardleis), Twitter (@richardleisjr), and Facebook (richardleisjr).