Throughout history, poets, philosophers, and politicians have conjured images and symbols they believe capture the best and worst of their age. Among these images are the four horsemen of the apocalypse, most famously seen in the Biblical Book of Revelation. Representing the destructive forces of war, famine, pestilence, and death, these horsemen have become permanent fixtures in Western art, poetry, and literature. One could also argue that throughout American history, and particularly in the last four years, we have unleashed our own four horsemen: racism, greed, ignorance, and fear.
The horseman of racism, perhaps our original sin, has constituted an evil presence throughout 400 years of our history. Racism is present in every aspect of American culture and society — in education, criminal justice, employment, neighborhood blight, in politics. It is most visible in the ongoing and open murder of citizens of color — witness events of the past year in Minneapolis and Atlanta.
The horseman of greed represents not just corporate greed, which is rampant, but also an individualism that emphasizes personal acquisition and gratification at the expense of the common good.
The horseman of ignorance does not connote a lack of knowledge but rather the willful rejection of the lessons of science. Its effects are seen in climate crisis denial, in challenges to basic scientific precepts such as evolution, in the protestations of the anti-vaccine crowd, and a general anti-intellectualism that scorns expertise by deriding educated spokespersons as out-of-touch elites.
Finally, there is the horseman of fear – fear of the immigrant, of the loss of white supremacy, fear produced by a continuing and abiding sexism and homophobia in our culture, and given the disturbing number of voter suppression laws being proposed by legislatures around the country — a fear of true democracy.
Also steeped in our history, thankfully, are counterforces. Again and again, Americans have called on these, the better angels of our nature, to do battle against these four horsemen. Against racism, a welcoming and celebration of diversity, a commitment to obliterate white supremacy and the reality of white privilege, and a commitment to the painstaking process of making social justice a reality.
Against greed, marshaling the powerful forces of kindness and generosity, a rejection of acquisition at any price, and a renewed commitment to promote the general welfare and common good.
Against ignorance, a demand and determination to follow and advance science, to respect the pillars of humanistic education, and to reject the constant deluge of falsehoods perpetrated by science-deniers in politics and the media.
Against fear, a determination to welcome the immigrant, to eliminate at long last the gender and sexual orientation discrimination in our midst, and to adopt a commitment to true democracy, representative of all citizens.
Horsemen who can ride out to do battle against the forces that represent the worst in the American character are ready. The call has gone out. It is time to saddle up.