We live in disorienting times. Our nation—truly, our world—stands on the cusp of unprecedented change. The pandemic has exacerbated deeper-rooted crises:
The reconciliation between American ideals and American legacies of racial violence: recognizing the original sins of slavery and rights of indigenous people.
The atomization of individuals and communities: loneliness, tech-enabled echo chambers, a fragmented media landscape, disinformation, and confirmation bias.
The spread of mistrust: fear of the other and doubt in institutions, accelerated by lies from public leaders and treatment of uncomfortable truths as “Fake News.”
The polarization of politics: ideological divisions outpacing—though aligned with—racial, socio-economic, and urban/rural divides.
The rise of authoritarianism: the continued curtailing of freedom in China and Russia, the government crackdown on protests in Hong Kong, Minsk, and Lafayette Square.
The distribution of wealth: returns to capital outpacing labor, diminished expectations of economic mobility, grossly stratified access to opportunity.
The questioning of the primacy of shareholder value: “stakeholders matter” + “short term-ism is bad” yields even more power to leaders and managers.
The trauma brought on by death, dying, and denial of the same.
The uncertainty of the future of America’s role in the world.
The lack of shared cultural stories and myths.
Not exhaustive, this list names issues we are interested to engage. Engaging them will require courageously re-imagining the world from the standpoint of multiple perspectives: some competing, some uncomfortable. Iranian-American author and professor of English literature, Azar Nafisi, once described her approach to novel-writing as a democratic exercise. Central to our pursuit of an inclusive democracy, questions of representation are fundamental to storytelling: Who are the characters? What voices, backgrounds, and identities are present? To what extent is space created or controlled for characters to express themselves? Similarly, our Dial team undertakes the responsibility to raise a platform that is “democratic” in Nafisi’s estimation, and in Merriam Webster’s: “relating to, appealing to, or available to the broad masses of the people.”
History is rife with upheaval and rebirth; we weigh it for instruction and inspiration. We can be hopeful not because of the conditions of our circumstances, but because of who we are: a free people with agency to affect some definite, profound modification of the landscape in which we suffer and grieve and fear, doubt and toil and dream. Proceeding as though things may get better is our best strategy for making it so. Such a “call to joy,” in the words of Malcolm X, is not “reservation to the chaos or confusion of life.” It is, rather, a call to embrace that which is forming in, and which will emerge from, the darkness.
Along with our quarterly publication, Symposeum, our expression may take the forms of verse and story-telling, creative nonfiction, visual art, podcast or roundtable conversations, contemporary cultural analysis, essays on philosophy and politics, social and natural sciences, reflections on spirituality, literary and art criticism. Such expression, in whatever form, must conjure and instruct that unquenchable desire which invigorates the spirit when gripped by truth. It must be fiercely dedicated to reason. It must transcend cynicism and any narrative that originates in fear. It must carry us out of the crippling channels of doubt and into a sea of confident and actionable belief—where there is depth to explore, space to breathe, and will to bend the arc of what is to come.
Our moment renders endless potential. Our outcome is undefined. Hope, we firmly believe, is a fruit of deliberation. For all the perspectives this Dial convenes, a perspective of cheerful rationality will be the common denominator. Such a perspective binds our felt fears for the world as it is, and embraces our articulated aspirations for the world as it might be.
The Dial team