★ ★ ★ ★
WHEN SHADOWS DISAPPEAR
Image by David Beale
By Aishwarya Vardhana
I have heard many a person, and a writer, say that words are failing them in these times. I have heard that the news is difficult to watch, and it is draining to stay informed. But it is in moments of crisis that our moral clarity is most needed. Crystal clear clarity in hindsight does not help the dead. It is now that they need us. Not tomorrow. Hence now is the time to take an intellectual risk. To learn, yes, to question (I know no other way), and to discuss because the moment is urgent and urgency means something. It means the risk of mistake and imperfection. Yes, the conflict between Israel and Palestine is multilayered and the politics of the region is centuries old, and it is not humanly possible to gain expertise in an issue overnight. But the word ‘genocide’ has been raised, and such a word is worthy, not of skepticism, because if we are “wrong” so what, but of concern. More investigation. Because if it turns out that they were right to use ‘genocide’ and we did nothing, what does that say about us?
I also find myself asking a lot of “why”. As someone educated in America, why am I unfamiliar with these geopolitics? Or, why do I not have the analytical tools or language to navigate this complexity? What have I chosen to learn, instead? If one does not have the community to discuss this issue, why? Why does a trusted circle where one can discuss, not politics, but morality, not exist for you? Why are everyday Americans not regularly engaged in the discourse of ethics and morality? Is there no time for it? Appetite? Energy? No common space such as a church, temple, mosque, or synagogue?
Israel’s retaliation on Hamas has been an onslaught on Gaza. This entire series of events demands that we engage with questions of morality. And yes, I am actually quite tired from following the news cycle, reading posts on social media, listening to podcasts, and conversations with friends, colleagues, and family. But in these moments of urgency I believe we must sacrifice a little bit of our sanity if it brings about a change of heart that would have never happened in moments of calm.
The Covid-19 pandemic was a stress test on our medical system, educational system, logistics systems, and social fabric. Times of crisis often are. At this moment I believe we are witnessing a stress test on our information ecosystem; this system consists of traditional media (e.g. newspapers and television), digital media and social media (e.g. Wikipedia and X/Twitter), online platforms (e.g. YouTube), government institutions, fact-checking organizations, and algorithms and recommender systems. I am not seeing the different players working together to deliver the full story. I am not seeing a collective effort to correct misinformation and disinformation. I am seeing individual entities putting out fires, delivering single narratives, parroting one another, and securing American geopolitical interests.
I witnessed this same breakdown during the first wave of Black Lives Matter. Social movements are our stress test. They reveal what is broken in our institutions, networks, and between neighbors. But I don’t want to be only negative because really, social movements are moments of moral clarity. They show us what can be improved or strengthened. You thought you understood your friend? Think again. You thought you knew your company’s values? Think again. You thought only reading the New York Times was enough? Think again. You already knew your social media feed was an echo chamber but you didn’t think that was a problem? Think again. I say “think again” not as a threat, quite the opposite. I say it as a call to action. To think again is to lean into the discomfort. To engage, learn, and discuss until we collapse from the spiritual weight of ambiguity.
In his 1969 televised address to the American people, U.S. President Richard Nixon said “North Vietnam cannot defeat or humiliate the United States. Only Americans can do that…” Well, I say to you now. The Israel-Palestine conflict cannot defeat or humiliate the United States. Only Americans can do that…
Aishwarya Vardhana (she/her) is a digital product designer, artist, and writer. She is interested in decoloniality, feminism, knowledge equity, and systems thinking.