Present, Past and Future

Present, Past and Future
By Grace Lee Boggs
Michigan Citizen, June 23, 2009

As I approach my 94th birthday, the Future and the Past are part of my Present in ways that I never anticipated.

Because I remain involved in the struggle to rebuild, redefine and respirit a de-industrialized and devastated Detroit, I am in continuing contact with younger activists who will be creating the Future long after I have joined the ancestors.

At the same time, because I was born so many decades ago, I have a sense of how people thought in the Past.

My parents and most of my early mentors were born and raised in the 19th or early 20th century. Also, when I became a movement activist in my mid-20s, like other young radicals, I was attracted to the revolutionary ideas that Karl Marx began developing in his 20s. At the time I didn’t realize that Marx was born in 1818 and that his ideas were heavily influenced both by the French Revolution which began in the 18th century and by the industrialization which represented progress in the 19th century.

Since then, however, I’ve been active in most of the great humanizing movements of the second half of the 20th century and still have most of my marbles in the first decade of the 21st ,century when the Future of Humankind and of Planet Earth depends on our repudiating 19th and early 20th century “growing the economy” concepts of progress and struggling, instead, to grow our souls, or to live more simply so
that others may simply live.

That is why I recommend careful reading of the article in the June 15 Nation, “On Torture and Truth” by Jonathan Schell, author of the award-winning Fate of the Earth.

Schell examines President Obama’s oft-stated determination to “get things right in the future as opposed [to] looking at what we got wrong in the past,” and warns that although this approach may appear humane, it actually undermines the fundamental relationships to Truth on which our humanity depends.

To begin with, refusing to examine these past actions means not facing the Truth that the purpose for torturing detainees was to get them to say that Saddam was conspiring with al Quaeda. In other words, the goal was to legitimize an illegal war of aggression. So it was not the war that produced the torture. The torture was produced to justify the war. Evading this Truth not only invites former VP Cheney and members of the Bush administration to continue spreading Lies about the Past. It is a slippery slope, paving the way for Obama’s half-truths about our military operations in Pakistan.

At a deeper level. resistance to investigating the Past means not facing the Truth that our country has begun the “most precipitous decline in global power in its history.” So “the power of the state that tortures may be increasingly fictional, but the degradation of its civilization is real.”

At an even deeper level the cover-up of “what went wrong in the past” risks ungluing the “bonds that connect the very tenses of human life–past, present and future–and therefore the degradation of civilization. For whatever else civilization may be, it is surely intercourse between past, present and future.”

Those are strong words. But if we take them seriously, they can help not only Obama but we, the American people, to transform the way we live.

The older I grow, the more I realize that one of the main reasons why our country is in such trouble is that age segregation has become so normal. Each age group communicates only with its peers. Yet down through the millennia humanity has continued to evolve only because several generations were in continuing interaction. Intercourse between Past, Present and Future was never absent. The energy and initiative of the young were always being balanced by the inertia and wisdom of elders – and vice versa. For the sake of our humanity we must rediscover and restore this balance.



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