As I do so often in uncertain times, I turn to comics. Specifically, DC superhero comics.
Because I do, I have some idea what it will be like to live in a world run by an enormous, self-centered creature who considers himself to be a god. This is a world where every aspect of life is devoted to praising a being who expects complete and total adoration, who expects his every utterance to be praised and obeyed. He runs his world based on his whims, turning his attention from one perceived slight to another.
His inner circle schemes to see who can flatter him the most. They do this to empower themselves, but also to stay alive. Those who displease him are banished to an eternity of suffering.
The people on this world toil endlessly in darkness. No matter how much they praise their lord, he pays them no attention. And they’re better off for it, because his attention arrives with his anger.
Everyone works really hard, every single day. Most of this is physical labor, the kind that combines intense exertion with soul-crushing tedium. The best to which they could aspire was a lifetime of this. There were no wages, or rewards, or respites of peace.
Perhaps this set-up satisfied the god for a few millennia. It’s no longer enough. Now he wants to conquer more worlds, more universes, more alternate realities. When he gets them, he is not satisfied, because he will never ever be sated.
When everything is about you, you can never be sated.
I suppose it’s possible that, for some people trapped in this world, there are moments that are better than others. Perhaps, before they fall asleep, they share a moment of camaraderie with a friend, or a moment of tenderness with a lover. In those moments, they might imagine a better world. They might try to find a way to make their own world better.
Because this world is so hellish, these people never get much farther than that. They don’t have the numbers, or they start to squabble with each other. They’re people, and they’re flawed, and too often, they put their own individual passions and opinions ahead of effective action.
In these comic book stories, there is sometimes a superhero to save them. There is a superhero who can defeat the dark lord, and in doing so, debase him in the eyes of his subjects. If they see him as fallible, they might be able to fight against him more effectively.
Here in our reality, where these stories only exist in comic books and folklore, we don’t have any superheroes. No one person is going to come in and save the day.
In fact, that kind of thinking is what gives power to the dark lord. Instead, we have to find common ground with each other. My priorities will be different from yours. The things that hurt me and make me feel helpless will be different from those things that affect you. This should not make us enemies. We should be able to take our individual, unique experiences and find common ground and common cause. There will be plenty of time to split hairs and determine who was most oppressed when we are all free.
If it helps, we can wear capes, too.