The Power to Refuse Your Consent

Visible to your eyes: less than 5% of total mass
Collision site of several galaxy clusters, 3.5 billion light years distant from Earth: less than 5% of the total mass is visible to our eyes through a conventional telescope



Pretty much every time I post here on Traces, I think it may be my last time.


No, no — I’m not being morbid. You misunderstand me. I assume that this is a feeling experienced by all non-professional bloggers. We find it difficult not to feel ambivalent. At one moment, blogging seems like a complete and total waste of time. At the next, we have to admit that it’s satisfying some hard-to-define need.


For me, I suppose, it’s about getting a bit closer to absolute clarity.


This morning, for example, I’m ruminating once again on why anyone should keep trying.


I won’t say “caring.” It’s possible to care without committing oneself to the roiled emotions, the hard work, and the physical, mental, and spiritual exhaustion that comes along with trying. 


Think of old Sisyphus. Don’t you know that he’d let that damn rock roll down the hill, given half a chance?


But here’s the thing, o reader of Traces. In our day-to-day lives, we tend to see only a fraction of the whole. Of what’s really going on. Of what’s at stake.


Call it five percent. Busy and distracted, we typically see about five percent of the whole.


And, yes, there is and always will be among us those who are unapologetically selfish. The takers. Bullies of every stripe. People who refuse to listen, but expect us to listen to them. Who enjoy being cruel or just spiteful, in a petty way. The people who make everything harder instead of easier. Who never surprise us in a good way. The ones we’re always having to make room for, to be patient with, to make excuses for.


Call them about twenty percent of the whole.


The rest, my friends, is us.


We’re that dark matter the astrophysicists talk about. Invisible … but essential.

First detected about 80 years ago, dark matter is thought to be the gravitational “glue” that holds galaxies together. The mysterious invisible substance is not made of the same kind of matter that makes up stars, planets, and people. Astronomers know little about dark matter, yet it accounts for most of the universe’s mass.

So, while you ponder that, here’s a quote I like, from author Primo Levi (1919-1987), the famous Italian chemist, writer, and Holocaust survivor. It’s an excerpt from his book Survival in Auschwitz (1958):

Even in this place one can survive, and therefore one must want to survive, to tell the story, to bear witness; and that to survive we must force ourselves to save at least the skeleton, the scaffolding, the form of civilization. We are slaves, deprived of every right, exposed to every insult, condemned to certain death, but we still possess one power, and we must defend it with all our strength for it is the last — the power to refuse our consent.

We ourselves are the skeleton, the scaffolding, the form of civilization. The invisible dark matter. And to stop striving would be to give consent.


I suppose, therefore — deep sigh — we must keep on keeping on. Don’t you agree?


We have to save them from themselves — without any prospect of gratitude, mind you — because it’s the only way to preserve this beautiful, beautiful world for the child I saw yesterday at a playground here in Black Mountain, talking to herself as she leaped from a low wall into thin air.


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