“Fear is the mind-killer.” – Litany Against FearI’ve seen the photo many times now. So much so that I can almost imagine gawking down the dark void of a tank barrel thinking “there is no way these idiots would waste the ammunition.”
But it’s not the caliber of barrel that is impressive. What seems more formidable is the human cruelty that can be inflicted staring right back at the vision of a photograph. The government can take your home, take your family, or better—erase you from history and bestow fear on those who would dare to rally behind.
Hence, no one followed the Tank Man in 1989.
It has been thirty years since the Tank Man stood, no one is sure what had happened to him. In the wake of Tiananmen’s violent resolve, China had joined the WTO (in 2001) and the world was hopeful it would share a common vision of emancipation with open economies, rule of law, and mutual exchanges of ideas. China is due for praise for lifting hundreds of millions of its citizens out of poverty since Tiananmen. It has made progress towards implementing the rule of law, and at times its economy seems open and welcoming to progressive ideas working towards global sustainability. More impressive is the hundreds of thousands of young Chinese students traveling to foreign countries without fear, facing prejudices, and taking back knowledge and friendships with them to help transform the world’s biggest population facing the largest ecological threats since joining the fossil-based global consumer production scheme in 2001. Hope seemed on the horizon.
Somewhere things turned for the worst.
The United States and Europe are now struggling with nationalist rhetoric at odds with the international institutions put in place after WWII. The United Nations struggles to address common threats such as climate change and human rights violations. The World Trade Organization appellate body are primed for paralysis with its membership dwindling below the threshold to exercise its adjudicative powers. The North Atlantic peace alliance faces an existential crisis as it is being leveraged for political gains rather than for stabilizing regions. Corruptions are rampant in both Socialist and Democratic nation states. Patriotism, nationalism, and authoritarianism are all on the rise. Pundits and optimists hope and bet on our dependence on the market forces to return to the same old spiraling downward progression, but the public confidence looms doom (millennial citing predictable global catastrophes as their main reason for not saving for their futures).
With uncertainty lurking, opportunists invoke and exploit strong emotions hijacking our wisdom of sensibilities. While the hijackers are busy creating totalitarian environments to silence the dissent allowing prolonged opportunities for such private profiteering, the masses are busy attuned to distractions. Caught in the middle are the students of life with what remain their resilient optimism, still traveling to and from China, United States, and the rest of the world in search of better lives on this pale blue dot in the universe we call our home.
In honor of this 30th anniversary of Tiananmen Massacre (or as the current U.S. President Trump had called it in 1990: a show of “the power of strength”), I am reminded that today is a day of great memory. The Chinese students who rose in defiance of the “power of strength” remain inspirations for countless others in both the East and the West to date. Confronting such power of totalitarian strength is the power of collective courage, which comes from the knowledge that the world does listen; we are turned to genuineness united against an installation of Fear to allegedly maintain stability, but for how long?
How long before the young forget such Fear and rise up in revolt? How long before the young remember such Fear to rise up for the virtuous ends?
Today, June 4th, is a day to honor all students of life continuously learning what Courage really means.
“I must not fear.
Fear is the mind-killer.
Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration.
I will face my fear.
I will permit it to pass over me and through me.
And when it has gone past I will turn the inner eye to see its path.
Where the fear has gone there will be nothing.
Only I will remain.”
― Frank Herbert, Dune