The Future is Local: Afghanistan, the Capitol Riot, and You

Want to "do something"? Good. Do it where it counts.

As I write this in August 2021, Afghanistan is beginning its return to the 10th century as US troops (and civilian citizens inexplicably present in that warzone) try and evacuate as fast as they can in the face of exultant Taliban violence. Thousands of Afghans who worked with the US troops will doubtless be tortured to death in the coming weeks. Thousands of newly orphaned children will be sold into sexual slavery. They will be abused at the hands of grotesque zealots bent on a thousand year-old jihad that they believe cannot stop until either everyone is a believer or every believer is dead. It’s a horror, as astonishing for its promised violence as for the possibility that it could even happen in these modern “enlightened” times. 

And there’s nothing any of us can do about that. 

It's possible that the Doha Agreement (Trump's deal to withdraw in May) might also have devolved into this chaos, and all the signatories to the deal (every power group in Afghanistan) were just lying to get the US troops to go home. We’ll never know, however, because by ditching Trump's timetable, betraying the deal, and claiming to know better what to do next, Biden decided to own it. Don't let anybody tell you Biden "inherited" this situation and there was nothing he could have done. He did do something, and in doing so messed it up. Again.

And there’s nothing any of us can do about that. 

We live in a place and time in which it is astoundingly easy to be hypnotized by the palace intrigues surrounding the imperial seat on the Potomac. It’s astoundingly easy to be enthralled by the dopamine hit of shouting at cable news, or angrily lighting up an online comment section. It’s astoundingly easy to think those things matter--that social media activism is “doing something” about the palace intrigues surrounding the imperial seat on the Potomac. But there's absolutely nothing anyone can say or do, on social media or elsewhere, that will fix Afghanistan or correct Afghanistan or ensure Afghanistan "never happens again." Nothing. I implore you to face this truth.

Much is being made currently of parallels between pictures of Taliban fighters lounging in Afghanistan’s capitol building and the selfies of the January 6 rioters. In the main it’s a vapid analogy, driven by narcissists on the internet in search of that oh-so-sweet dopamine hit that only online outrage produces. But there’s a broader point here, and the January 6 rioters can teach us a valuable lesson. 

The QAnon Shaman and the rest of the Capitol Riot crowd realized too late that there was nothing they could actually do once they were there. They thought they were finally “doing it!” and “making it happen!” They were wrong. And having entered the building, they realized they had no idea what to do next. Because getting that dopamine hit was all they knew how to do, and once that had been achieved by storming the building, there was no plan. There could be no plan. So with a whimper instead of a bang, away they faded. 

Don’t let yourself be drawn into stupid performative “action” on things you cannot control. All the energy you might be feeling about Afghanistan, or welfare, or Planned Parenthood, or freedom of conscience, needs to be channeled into something genuinely useful, and local. Go read the agenda for the next city council meeting or school board meeting or county supervisor/commissioner meeting in your locale. There's something on there just as sneaky, stupid, insulting, and infuriating as the massive multidecade imperial foreign policy blunder of Afghanistan (it’s called the Graveyard of Empires for a reason). 

And you can do something about your local situation. You can get in front of your local government and pressure it on mask mandates, forced vaccination, equity racism, business taxes, local "improvement" boondoggles, traffic cameras, homelessness, no-knock SWAT raids, and more and more. I implore you, however, to also realize that politics is a long game. You cannot simply “say your piece” at a board meeting and think you’re done. That’s the Capitol Riot plan (which is no plan). If you’re energized about something local, stay energized. Find like-minded folks in your town and organize locally. Keep fighting until the fight is done, not just until you land a single punch. 

The future is local. You cannot affect the palace intrigues surrounding the imperial seat on the Potomac. You cannot impact the goings-on in Afghanistan one iota. But you can face down the local tinpot weasels who have come to infest your local government while your attention was thousands of miles away. Your local government electeds are doing things right now that are messing with your life, and the lives of your children and neighbors. 

Take this energy, this anger at the faraway palace intrigues, and use it locally to do some real good.