“The Surabaya was a large steel box taking away his memories, devouring them” says Nobel Prize-Winning Author JMG LeClezio in his novel Onitsha. Boxes really are just simple containers. They hold things, separate them, sort them. A box has sides to it. Sometimes the sides are shapable, malleable — cardboard or paper-like material that can be pushed and pulled on, reshaped. Other times, the sides are rigid — wood and metal — designed to hold, entrap, in permanence.
How do we know when we are controlled? Do we realize it or do the forces that bind and confine do so without our realization? Are there really evil people in the world that control? Madeline Albright asserts in her book Fascism: A Warning that indeed there are evil shapers and controllers: “To hold the line, we must recognize that despots rarely reveal their intentions and that leaders who being well frequently become more authoritarian the longer they hold power (120).” I match this up directly to what U.S. President Donald Trump did today. Trump said, in the middle of a biological death crisis, that it was time to wrap up the fifteen days of social distancing soon and get back to our lives. In looking at increasing numbers of infections from COVID19 daily, the numbers geometrically folding daily, it seems he deigns himself supreme and thus could be considered a despot. Despots do not truly care about those they lord over.
Perhaps it is just Darwinesque survival of the fittest. Perhaps there really are lions and lambs and each must take its rightful position at Earth’s throne. In Behold The Dreamers, Imbolo Mbue’s novel exploration of the haves and havent’s she says “He was fuming and breathing heavily. Beneath him, she sat like a lamb before a teeth-bearing lion (236)”. I don’t think women of today accept being the sacrificial lambs subject to the lion’s teeth. The #MeToo movement says otherwise, that women have power. Yet, if we accept the despot, we accept his lion teeth deep into our flesh. He’ll twist, turn and spin — and never let go.
Maybe we should just count on hope. We should realize that things will happen as they may and we should think positively and thus shape what we want. Jesmyn Ward says “I believe there is power in asserting our existence, our experience, our lives, through words. That sharing our stories confirms our humanity. That it creates community both within our own community and beyond it (10)” in her novel The Fire This Time. If we follow Ward’s plan, we are assertive of our own position, yet respectful of others. By doing this, we create a shaped world we love and one that others, too, can love. No room for despots at this table.
Then there’s the strategy of force vs. force, eye for an eye, that Marwan Hisham and Molly Crabapple advocate in Brothers of the Gun: A Memoir of the Syrian War: “What’s taken from you by force can only be retrieved by force (74).” When faced with the despot, take and take again. Take all you can before you are taken. Taken from your home, your life, your will, your ways. Ignore the naysayers and go after the enemy full-force. Hold nothing back.
If only. If only we could say that one of these is best. All offer hope, but up against pure power of the despot, all hope drains away in the sieve we stand upon and we are left with nothing. In this case, perhaps we prefer the forceful intervention. Regardless of what we do, the steel box looks to devour us. We must avoid its permanence.