January 3, 2009
Hope After 'Hope': A Thought ExperimentBy Esther Cameron
It is January 21, 2009, 7:30 a.m. Scene: a coffee house. Publius sitting at a table, staring into space. Enter Atticus.
Atticus: Good morning, Publius. (Tentatively pulls out a chair, Publius motions for him to sit down.) Or perhaps I should not say good morning, given that you look decidedly down in the mouth.
Publius. That should hardly surprise you, given that we are now living in an occupied country.
Atticus: As bad as that?
Publius: No country still free would have considered, let alone elected, a president with family and political ties to its sworn enemies. But our press and institutions of learning are in the hands of the enemy, and they controlled. Our "new media" couldn't get through to the mass of the people; we've just been talking to ourselves. And what's ahead -- doesn't really bear thinking about, does it?
Atticus: You put it starkly, but I cannot dispute your analysis.
Publius: So what are you looking cheerful about?
Atticus: Why, it always gives me a lift to embark on a new project; and this morning I am busy with plans for organizing a resistance.
Publius: How, indeed, would you propose to do this?
Atticus: There are a number of models to consider. For instance, the twelve-step programs.
Publius: Twelve-step programs?
Atticus: Yes. A Twelve-step program is an organization of people who are struggling with an addiction and supporting one another in their struggles. Our current problem could be defined as an addiction. Media dependency. Being dependent for your culture and information on sources controlled by people who may not share your values. Like other addictions, this problem could be addressed through a network of support groups, in this case for people who want to stay free.
Publius: Hm. It's an interesting analogy, but I mistrust it. It sounds too much like therapy. This isn't a private problem like alcoholism, but a public one. Even if you turn off your TV, you're just a drop in the vast ocean of those who watch the tube.
Atticus: Yes, but there are Twelve-step programs for people who are dealing with others' addictions as well as their own. Some of their experience might well be valuable.
Another model I'm considering is the Talmudic tractate Avot, or "Ethics of the Fathers." This is a text that was put together some time after the destruction of the Second Temple. Avot lays down a set of guidelines that the people will need to follow in order to hold on to their basic values, stay together and support each other. There too the problem was, at least on the surface, an external one -- loss of sovereignty. But it had a psychological dimension -- they had to strengthen and fortify themselves. This is "therapy," if you like, but it's a therapy which, through the individual, addresses the problems of the community. And also of the outside world, to the extent that it takes notice.
Publius: Yes -- to the extent that it takes notice. That's what I'm skeptical about. I worry that this would just become another ingrown group.
Atticus: Avoiding this would be the main project of the kind of group I'm envisioning. Not everybody reads new media websites like American Thinker. But everyone who reads American Thinker and other fine publications knows some people who don't. So in this new Twelve-step program, the members would reflect on their contacts with the outside world, exchange experiences and lessons. And the meetings would be an incentive to each person to go out of his or her way to make such contacts.
Publius: I'm still skeptical. Conversations with people who have closed minds have a dispiriting sameness in my experience. A meeting to compare notes on such conversations could turn into "Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Locked Steel Door." Not sure I'd be a repeat attendee.
Atticus: This is a problem, but it's one that Avot does address. According to Avot the world is founded on three things -- learning, service, and acts of kindness. Learning is what keeps you going through those times when you can't be immediately effective. There's always plenty to learn.
So one thing we could do in these meetings, besides report and reflect on our experiences, is study Avot and any other books the members find relevant. Anything from the Divine Comedy to The Oslo Syndrome to Watership Down. I envision that each meeting would be tripartite, based on that saying from Avot -- learning, service and kindness. Learning -- they'd listen to a report or analyze some key passage. Service -- each participant would report on his or her own outreach efforts. And kindness -- well, they would listen to one another's musical or literary performances.
Publius: That would indeed be an exercise in kindness. But how is all this supposed to lead to the election of loyal political leaders?
Atticus: By restoring some aspirations to the culture... But if we need a more formal plan of action, we might look at the plan Jethro proposes in chapter 18 of Exodus -- a tier-like structure based on the number 10, whereby each group of ten selects a leader, who meets with ten other group leaders, and the leaders of ten such groups would meet, and so on as the organization grows. Theoretically we could end up with a council of ten representing 100,000,000 people. On the way, people with knowledge and ability in various areas have been identified. Proceedings, reports, and artistic contributions have been posted on the Web. At last the group is in a position to influence elections, not by media campaigns nor even by official endorsements, but just by a spreading of the knowledge of who the real leaders are.
Publius: All right, let's say you have a plan. But let me ask you: how far do you think such an enterprise could get before attracting, shall we say, unfavorable attention? I understand that an intimate friend of our President-Elect dedicated a book to the assassin of Robert Kennedy. And these people will control the military and the police.
Atticus: I have not been unaware of it. But note that the kind of movement I'm suggesting would be "low-profile," especially in its early stages. No identification of superstars who could be picked off, just the building of a consensus that might not be so easy to root out. I'm assuming that the 2012 elections will still be free, and that we could influence them if we start now.
But in the end, we are going to have to remember that it is form of poverty to have nothing you are willing to die for. We need to count the blessings of Western culture and strengthen the determination not to give them up. And above all we need faith -- faith in a Creator Who values his creation and does not want to see it degraded, and Who will help us if we can find the will to begin.
Publius: And who will help us to find the will.