I can’t explain how strangely moving it is to see photos of Aung San Suu Kyi walking amidst the architecture I have seen daily over the past three years. Like most, I am not an aficionado of Burmese politics. Nor do I know the intricate details of her struggle. But in knowing she read philosophy, politics and economics in the same surroundings that I did before devoting her life to a seemingly doomed, powerless pursuit of democracy – sacrificing her personal life and family to do so – I know enough to feel a bond, however irrational it may be. It’s not just that I feel connected by a degree and university, but rather that I have some insight into how, after receiving a similar education, the courage to single-mindedly fight for such a value could come to absorb you. I’m not, of course, saying I could ever attain a similar level of saintliness. But I get why certain things can grow to seem of such unparalleled importance, and why the tension between living a life for yourself and for the sake of others is a real one with no easy answer. Loved ones matter, but so does liberty; both your children and your country count. And in not belonging to a nation governed by thugs, I’m blessed that the two will never conflict.
Some may frown at the intellectualism inherent in what I just wrote. I feel like cutting it myself, but it would be deceptive to now delete what I said naturally. I do, undoubtedly, have a tendency to think it is only with deep reflection on some issues that you can come to truly understand what matters and thereby acquire a motive to do something about it. And yet, I also know that’s nonsense. I just finished watching Milk for the first time since I saw it in cinemas. Not a hyper-educated man, sure. But he clearly had a passion and a spark and sense of justice that drove him just like Suu Kyi’s, with the political once more piling an unimaginable personal cost on the freedom fighter. No reading of Immanuel Kant necessary.
What’s amazing about Milk, incidentally, is how far we have come legally without catching up socially. There would never be movements in the West nowadays to enshrine employment discrimination on the basis of sexuality into law. In the 70s, gays faced that. Now the only legal barricade left to bash down is exclusion from the institution of marriage. But it’s striking how the Anita Bryant-style figure, the Christian crusader on behalf of family values, still has clout in the States (now it’s Bryan Fischer), and comparing homosexuality to bestiality still happens. And let’s not forget that the potential president in waiting, Mitt Romney, practically forced his foreign spokesman out of his campaign because he loved men.
The social stigmas remain, and gay children still clearly carry legitimate fears about the consequences of coming out to their parents. But this nastiness now firmly feels like in a generation’s time, it’ll be History in the way that widespread legitimate racism is. And that will be the day when one saint’s sacrifice will be vindicated. Aung San Suu Kyi’s, we can hope, will similarly not end up being futile.