Saturday, January 29, 2011

A Terrible Beauty Is Born

I have met them at close of day
Coming with vivid faces
From counter or desk among grey
Eighteenth-century houses.
I have passed with a nod of the head
Or polite meaningless words,
Or have lingered awhile and said
Polite meaningless words,
And thought before I had done
Of a mocking tale or a gibe
To please a companion
Around the fire at the club,
Being certain that they and I
But lived where motley is worn:
All changed, changed utterly:
A terrible beauty is born.

— From W.B. Yeats, "Easter, 1916"

The current situation in Egypt is, as they say, fluid. There is the remote possibility that the Egyptian people will achieve their apparent ends relatively peacefully, without further loss of life. But while the power of authority arrayed against them—the police, internal security apparatus, and perhaps the army—relies for its ultimate effectiveness upon the credible threat of violence, the power of protest and resistance relies in the last instance upon a people's willingness to die for their cause.

This is what it means to be courageous: to place yourself in the path of irresistible force, certain of your own destruction, for a cause higher than yourself and your petty concerns. Flesh arrayed against bullets, bodies against tanks. Lives willingly offered for beliefs and aspirations. Without sacrifice or the threat of sacrifice, there is no courage.

And bullets and tanks are so much more powerful than flesh and bodies, are they not? But here's the trick: once the credible threat of violence by a government against its own people tips over into the actual use of force, the balance shifts. The government forfeits all legitimacy, and the people assume the mantle of moral and political authority over their own destinies. By sacrificing their blood and their lives, the people themselves can seize power from the men with bullets and machines. For there are always more people than there are bullets or machines.

Ammunition runs out. Machines break down. But ideas, and ideals, are inexhaustible.

Let us hope the Egyptian people feel the power in their own hands, and use it.

Creedy: "Die! Die! Why won't you die?... Why won't you die?"
V: "Beneath this mask there is more than flesh. Beneath this mask there is an idea, Mr. Creedy, and ideas are bulletproof."

— V for Vendetta

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