Tuesday, October 27, 2020

Transform Margins

I've been thinking about plate tectonics lately, in part because I've sat in on several geology lectures over the past month and in part because of Hamilton,the musical. I'll explain that last part in a minute, but first a refresher for those of you for whom it's been a hot minute since you last took an Earth science class.

As you are no doubt aware, the earth's crust is divided into nine major plates, and, due to convection in the mantle, these plates shift around. Along the margins where plates come in contact, they may diverge, pulling apart from each other, converge, either through collision of two plates of continental crust or subduction of denser oceanic crust beneath more buoyant continental crust, or slide past each other in opposite directions along transform margins.

Now back to Hamilton. We're obsessed in our house. We've watched the musical twice since it became available on streaming, we listen to the cast album excessively, C is now reading the doorstop-sized Ron Chernow biography on which the show was based, and I just finished reading Hamilton: The Revolution, which includes the lyrics of show, annotated by Lin Manuel Miranda, and bios of the cast members and stories of how the show came to be by Jeremy McCarter (you can read my mini review of it here).

And the thing I haven't been able to wrap my head around every time I watch the show or listen to the album or read bits of the book is how did this show, which gives a steely eyed but sympathetic appraisal of our Founding Fathers in all their faults, which is a triumph of imagination and creative genius, which shatters all previous paradigms about who is allowed to portray these dusty old gods of our nation, which celebrates America as it is in all of its beautiful diversity, how did this show come out in 2015 and Donald Trump get elected president in 2106?

This is where I come back to geology, specifically transform margins. I think of the great mass of our nation as a continental crust moving forward, in the direction of progress, equity, and justice fueled by kindness, generosity, imagination, and a willingness to change. Moving in the opposite direction is the smaller but still substantial (40+ percent? C'mon people) plate, regressing toward white supremacy, patriarchy, oppression, and division, fueled by fear, hate, insecurity, intransigence, and lack of imagination.

The meeting points of tectonic plates can be violent places, if "violence" can be applied to morally neutral geological phenomena. They can certainly be destructive--resulting in earthquakes and volcanoes in the short term and complete transformation of the face of the earth in the long term. And so, as the plate of progress shifts forward--our first Black president, an earth- and norm-shattering Broadway show--the vibrations are felt along the opposing plate and erupt in shootings in schools, churches, and synagogues, attacks on peaceful protesters, plots to kidnap and murder elected officials. 

Plate boundaries can be destructive places. But they can also be creative, giving rise to mountain ranges. That is our goal--to rise up, not only move mountains but build them. So what can any one of us do today to keep the plate moving forward? Examine our biases, be kind, do good works, and VOTE.

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