By Julian Friedland
[Julian Friedland is a French-American philosopher, who, along with his research, likes to write on current issues in the popular press. He has written for such periodicals as the New York Times, the Chronicle of Higher Educ
In the span of a single day, Donald Trump was elected President and Leonard Cohen passed away. The contrast between these two souls who walked this same soil couldn’t be more stark. The abyss yawning between them begs that timeless question of how any of us can ever hope to live the best life we can live—especially as we embark upon such dark and uncertain times. To me, the philosophical problem of the good life normally ends up receding into the background as an ultimately inscrutable metaphysical abstraction. And yet now I feel an answer is screaming inside me—burning through my veins like pure flames.
I’ve always wondered what it would be like to live in an age of consequences, where everything really mattered. How would I act at all those crucial defining moments, that our age of science and rational self-interest has until now so meticulously disinfected us from? Would I have been the kind to stand up in the face of injustice, or would I have looked the other way—or worse, joined in for fear of finding myself teetering on the fraying edge of a social and professional precipice?
Determinists tell us there are basically just two ways to become extraordinary. One is to be made up of extraordinary stuff to begin with, like Leonard was. Few of us get to be that lucky. The other is to live in extraordinary times. And every single one of us now gets to be that lucky.
Every fiber of my being yanks at me now as if something or everything has prepared me for this. It has prepared you too. It has prepared us all who can now listen and hear this call. As always, the only thing we have to do is decide how to spend the precious time we’ve been given. And here we find ourselves propelled onto a path already decided for us. There’s no escaping it. Though some of us may ultimately choose to flee this country completely. I myself have French citizenship, so that option always beckons.
We cannot know just how hard these times will turn out to be. Nor exactly how long they will last. But let’s not kid ourselves. They’ll rattle us to the core. Yet isn’t that what we’re all looking for—that bare bedrock core that shows us what we really stand for? Soon, it’s all we’ll have left to define us, as years of protective blubber get clawed away by the desperate and relentless forces of jealousy and hatred.
We must simply undertake the only path that lies before us now. As the trolls and troglodytes lash out along the way, each of their blows will sharpen our focus, thereby strengthening our resolve. Always remember there are more of us than there are of them, as most of the world stands with us too.
We have nothing left to become but what these extraordinary times will shape us into—no more, no less than the very best that we can be. Together, the crushing weight of our shared dignity and decency will push on every public sphere. Until the impotent hatred of Trump and his ilk becomes an unbearable weight to every single one of them.