I recently finished The Elements of Typographic Style by Robert Bringhurst. One surprising discovery for me was that character which I have called the "forward slash" all my life, has another name, a dignified one, capable of commanding much more respect. It is the "virgule."
Another interesting tidbit, "virgule" is actually the French word for "comma." This struck me as quite odd, until I learned that, long, long ago, the moment of pause was how the forward slash was actually used. Try to imagine your writing like that for a moment, with virgules at every single minor pause.
Fashion changes. In the past, it took many generations for virgules to get elided down to small little hooks hanging below a text's baseline. Change nowadays is much more rapid. Centuries of tradition have been upended and now largely go ignored. Our culture is a flood of the new and the ephemeral.
But is this good for us?
In some ways, certainly it is. There are privileges and freedoms we all enjoy that were unheard of fifty, twenty, even ten years ago. I myself am the beneficiary of a privilege (marriage equality) that is, at the national level in my country, only two years old.
But in other ways, it seems that liberalism has driven us apart. We are now more private than public. Each person is an island of his own thoughts. The predilection to shut out alternate points of view and create for oneself an intellectual echo chamber is now easier than ever.
In other words, the same liberalism that empowered positive societal transformation now appears to be equally capable of powering extremely negative transformation. Will good always come out ahead in the grand scheme of things? This was certainly the assumption of liberal society for the past two-hundred-odd years. The assertion no longer appears entirely certain.
In pondering over all this, one thing is clear to me. It is time for a pause.
For many reading this, I expect that to call 2016 a traumatic year will not be an exaggeration. As has been evident from the blog post that precedes this one, it has not been without trial for me.
But there is also much for which I am thankful, and much remaining that I have the power to accomplish. If anything good has come out of the last two months, it is the realization that I cannot take for granted a single moment of my freedom. I am a writer. For now, I am free to express myself in words however I choose. I do not know how much longer that will be the case, and so I must make the most of the opportunity that exists now.
Justice, freedom, liberty—these things are never truly safe from evil. The struggle to maintain and renew them must constantly be fought.
Pause. Take a deep breath. Reflect, and consider your next actions. They are very important.
And then, after careful consideration, let us all do what we know to be true and right.