Under normal circumstances, in a few days we would gather together to celebrate the festival of Purim. We celebrate by reading together the megillah. It tells a timeless story for every generation about standing up and avoiding death.

Since, as we all know, the whole megillah is a long megillah, I will suggest this shortened version that I think today’s people of all beliefs can relate to.

Once upon a time, there was an incompetent ruler of a great land, largely indifferent to the needs of his people, whose legitimacy was questioned by many. We are introduced to him because he gets mad at his wife and decides to select a new younger and prettier one by having women engage in competitions to show off their beauty before a mass audience, and picks one that catches his eye.

The administration is super racist and seems to have as its central policy position that it should retain power, and everyone should bow down to it as often as possible. Otherwise feasts and honors seem to be its top priority.

A grave threat then is endowed with great potential power in the land. One strong-willed person did not follow proper protective procedures, and now the threat has been unleashed and spreads through much of the population. It threatens mass death in the future, but as yet has not done much. Many of the actions needed to prevent this are made illegal. Those who can project into the future and think even a tiny bit see great devastation, but it is not too late to fight back and prevent most of it.

One person, in particular, has information that needs to be better known and potentially the power to contain the threat before it is too late.

This person is implored to speak up. Alas, this person is silent, because the authorities had not given explicit permission to speak or even enter their presence. There was great fear that there would be grave social retaliation if social norms were broken.

Meanwhile, across the land, for three days, people were asked to help fight this tragedy by sharing their thoughts and prayers. This is the only thing that they are known to have done. As far as we know they at most took nominal actions to guard their own personal safety, but mostly carried on business as usual.

Finally, courage allowed this person to speak truth to power. The threat was out there, and those who foolishly and spitefully allowed things to get this far lacked the power to reverse that decision.

Luckily, it was not too late. The people were given permission to take action and fight back!

The people rose up, did battle and vanquished the threat for the time being. It was doomed to remain endemic and periodically attempt to kill us again.

Then they celebrated, power was passed to more competent administration that cared about the land and its people, and taxes were raised.

Thus, we continue to tell the story, so that we will always remember, never bow down or refuse to speak up or defend ourselves. So each year we have an excuse to gather, eat and be merry, to tell a one-sided story and during the telling boo the names of the political enemies that hate us and that we make no attempt to sympathize with or truly understand.

And in this year’s context, maybe, just maybe, don’t have large indoor gatherings of people to eat communal food in a crowded space, and instead do this at home in some fashion, perhaps with a YouTube recording if you’re not up to a full reading, engage in social distancing, wash your damn hands, stop touching your damn face, and if you are in a position to do more than that, do even more.

Happy Purim, everybody!




New to LessWrong?

New Comment