(J.R.R. Tolkien, The Return of the King)
(Achira wo tatereba kochira ga tatazu;
“If one raises that side, this side will not rise.”)
It’s difficult, almost impossible, to get all sides of something equally accepting and happy about the result; to protect the honor and dignity of both sides of a dispute. For one side of a seesaw to rise, the other must fall. “You can’t please everyone.” As Jim Carrey said: “Unfortunately, there are situations in life… where there must be a winner and a loser.”
We begin with the pronoun 彼方 (achira), “over there,” marked by the particle を (wo) as the direct object of the transitive verb 立てる (tateru), “to stand [something up],” “to raise,” in prenominal form and taking the potential suffix る (ru), which in turn appears in imperfective form as れ (re) and takes the hypothetical suffix ば (ba).
This is followed by another clause in parallel, beginning with pronoun 此方 (kochira), “over here.” This time the pronoun is marked as the subject of a verb by particle が (ga), and the verb in question is again 立つ, this time in imperfective form and taking the negative suffix ず (zu) in conclusive form.
It is acceptable to write achira and kochira in hiragana (あちら, こちら). In many cases, the early を will be elided. And in many cases we’ll see the final negative rendered as prenominal ぬ rather than ず, presumably because the sentence continues – a longer variant continues the theme by declaring that if both sides rise, the center must fail (双方立てれば身が立たぬ, souhou tatereba mi ga tatanu).
This is probably not new news for any regular readers of the blog, but I want to stress here that yes, this is a comment on contemporary American politics. And I want to make it crystal clear that I feel an enormous sense of relief that a setback has finally been delivered to the forces of fascism. But I want to temper this with a reminder that just because the previous president getting fired is objectively good for the entire world, doesn’t actually mean that everybody is happy about it: forces remain in play that can and will cause problems even after the Oval Office is decontaminated, and we need as many people working together to face those problems as possible.
The line between relief-powered joy, and triumphal mockery, can also decide how many victims of a system that goes out of its way to instill hate and fear can be saved from that system. It would be good for everyone in the long term if those victims, who were tricked into voting for their own destruction at the hands of uncaring robber barons, can be shown enough sympathy, empathy, kindness, and understanding that their pride doesn’t prevent them from turning to the side of good.
A huge part of why Biden won is that he knows this: The greatest victory is not in destroying your enemies, but in turning them into your allies. And this starts with empathy.
(“Achira tatereba kochira ga tatanu kenka ni hasamaretara komaru nda. Ore ni kiku na.”)
[“I don’t want to get caught in a fight where one side or the other has to lose face, so don’t ask me.”]