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Excursis I: To Light a Fire

xxxx All Necessary Risks xxxx

The other day, a friend asked me a question about the mission that drives me to write this book and that has driven me since the fall of 2004– to try to help turn around our present dangerous political dynamic. She is a person who understands something about being on a mission: for many years, she was aflame on a mission, in which she accomplished much, on behalf of battered women. She asked me if I was able to pursue this mission from a “spiritually centered” place.

After pondering a bit, I answered. “The picture seems mixed. With respect to what I am supposed to do, and what I’ve got to say, I feel great clarity. Is that some sort of centeredness? But at the same time, I am carrying a good deal of anxiety. And that doesn’t feel ‘centered.'”

It is from this combination that my anxiety comes.

1) I feel CALLED to this mission– to share something important that I’ve seen. Whatever one makes of this idea of “calling,” I experience it as meaning that it is not about me but about serving something much bigger and more important than me. And answering that call means that I am obliged to take ALL NECESSARY RISKS to accomplish my mission.

2) One big risk is that I feel obliged to take — in order to maximize the chance of this mission succeeding — is to make some claims that I think true, but whose boldness might be considered unseemly. Such chutzpah seems obligatory, as the most likely way this book — and my mission — will fail is by failing to get the kind of attention its success will require.

3) But there’s a very strong chance that my claims will go unsupported, and that I’ll be left hanging out there having declared that what I have to say is a big deal, while the world shrugs its shoulders in non-confirmation of my claim.

Hence the anxiety– the fear that people will see me as a pretentious jerk with delusions of grandeur.

But the requirement to take “all necessary risks” means that such fears of embarrassment must be disregarded for the sake of the mission.

It’s not the first such risk I’ve taken, but this one feels a good deal riskier than the previous ones, e.g. my jumping into the political arena, plunging heart and soul into a two-year campaign for Congress, even though I’d never run for office before and that role did not fall readily into my comfort zone.

So here’s what I claim: 1) this book presents something that’s true and important and not already being said elsewhere; and 2) that there is are scenarios — not probable, but plausible enough — in which the ideas in this book can be used to strike a meaningful blow in the battle in the American power system that must be fought and must be won.

About the importance of what I’ve seen, I have great confidence. I know what I’ve seen, and for ten years it has blown me away. About the impact that my showing it here in this book will have, I am far less sure.

Ten years have taught me a good deal about my target audience, and I do not write with the kind of faith in the reader that I had, say, forty years ago when I was writing my first book on the destructive forces that have arisen to warp the course of civilized societies.

Hence another risk I feel obliged to take: to challenge that target audience in ways that some may find less than endearing. There are obstacles that must be dealt with.

Continuing with the obligatory chutzpah, let me say that a case might be made that anyone who recognizes that power must be drained away from the force that has taken over the right has a moral obligation to at least check out whether my claims are valid.

1) Would it be OK, Oh Liberal America — given the precariousness of our situation in America, and the terribly high stakes in the battle — if such claims from a plausible messenger were actually valid, but people didn’t even bother to check them out.

2) If a person with my background and life story would not qualify as a plausible carrier of a message of that sort, just what would a more plausible messenger look like? (Wikipedia and the PTB page of quotes.)

So, dear reader, in the hopes of getting you on board I am risking putting you off and embarrassing myself. “On board” would mean not only willing to do the work that this book demands of the reader but also, if you are persuaded, being ready to invest your talents and passions in using what’s here to help turn this dangerous dynamic in America around.

It is not just to be read that I am writing this book, but to help make something better happen in our world. It is that purpose that drives me to take these risks that feel almost reckless though I see them as necessary.

xxxx An Uncle Tom’s Cabin for Our Times? xxxx

“Make something better happen.” For more than a decade, my immodest ambition has been for the ideas just presented in the first chapter to serve as the UNCLE TOM’S CABIN for this era. By that I mean that I have hoped that my message would do for the latent power of Liberal America what Stowe’s novel, UNCLE TOM’S CABIN, did for the North in the first half of the 1850s.

The idea that slavery was a moral wrong had been getting an increasing foothold in the North in the decades before Harriet Beecher Stowe’s best-selling book was published. But in the political realm, the force that opposed slavery (and the Slave Power) was still being out-fought by the pro-slavery forces from the South abetted by many Northern politicians.

Then came Stowe’s book, dramatizing — or melo-dramatizing — the pernicious character of the institution of slavery. The book caught on like wildfire. And the fire that was lit in the North played a role in the stiffening of the backbone among the people of the North, in readying them to stand up to the Slave Power. This was during a decade during which that Slave Power (as many called it) was acting the bully in the American power system, becoming ever more persistent in its overreaching efforts not just to protect but to expand the dominion of the economy based on human bondage.

It was because of that fire that Lincoln, upon meeting Stowe during the Civil War, is said to have declared: ” “So you are the little woman who wrote the book that started this great war!”

Here we are once again in a situation with some important parallels — with Liberal America today being much like the North in the early 1850s. Once again the side that, however imperfect, is tasked to defend Wholeness is being bullied, and is responding in a weak, ineffectual fashion. Once again, a destructive force is dividing the country into antagonistic elements, and thereby damaging the ability of our democracy to navigate its way through our challenges in a wise and constructive way.

And so I’ve hoped that my message would rouse Liberal America to fight the same spirit against which Harriet Beecher Stowe kindled the fire with her book, the same force that, a century and a half ago, used the Slave Power to damage, and nearly destroy, this nation.

Such things happen, but very rarely. And thus far my efforts — as a blogger and as a political candidate — have proved unable to light a fire as Uncle Tom’s Cabin did.

[Little sign, anyway. There was a time during my congressional campaign, which was fortunately caught on a video that went viral, when that fire did quite palpably get lit: LINK]

It might reasonably be argued that — even if the message that has driven me were as on target as I’ve believed — my aspiration was unrealistic and inappropriate on the face of it. Uncle Tom’s Cabin was a novel, which means it used narrative to bring its readers through a well-orchestrated set of experiences.

By contrast, my message – particularly in the form of this book — is directed to the intellectual level, presenting an interconnected set of ideas to explain the meaning of the facts before us.

Would Liberal America not be better kindled by something written in the mode of Stowe’s moving message? The experiential dimension of a story (whether on the page, or in a film) has an elemental power to grab people “where they live.” Moreover, Harriet Beecher Stowe wrote in a sentimental and melodramatic fashion that was especially powerful, in that era, in generating an emotional impact. The death of Little Eva, the cruelties of Simon Legree, the nobility and Christ-like self-sacrifice of Uncle Tom– all these were indelible images and spoke directly in the powerful mode that mimics our lives as we live them.

But the passions are not so readily evoked when people are engaged at the intellectual level. So how could a book like this play anything life an Uncle Tom’s Cabin kind of a role?

While there’s validity to that argument, there is also an important point to be made on the other side.

At the time that Uncle Tom’s Cabin was published, Stowe’s readers already KNEW a basic truth — that slavery was an immoral and unjust system — and what was needed was for them to FEEL the compassion, the outrage, the yearning for justice called for by the truth that they knew.

In America in our time, the situation is different.

Yes, we in Liberal America need to feel more of the outrage and more passion for fight that our situation calls for. (See “Where’s the Moral Outrage.” http://www.nonesoblind.org/blog/?p=13299 ) But I believe that what underlies the lack of outrage and passion in the Liberal America of our times is an adequate understanding of THE TRUTH OF OUR SITUATION.

Our weakness I am asserting — is a function of the inability to see what’s before our eyes, and that inability in turn is a function — I am asserting — of important errors at the level of fundamental ideas.

If WHAT WE ARE UP AGAINST is an “evil force” which has made today’s Republican Party its instrument, but people cannot see it because their ideas about the world leave no room for such a thing as an “evil force,” then the necessary response from people may require their changing their ideas about the world.

So lighting a fire in that part of America that needs to stand up and fight against an evil force is a different task in today’s crisis than it was in the crisis over slavery in Harriet Beecher Stowe’s day.

UNCLE TOM’S CABIN made people contact deep feelings about a truth they already knew– a task for which a tear-jerker of a novel was the perfect instrument.

WHAT WE”RE UP AGAINST attempts to get people to see a truth that they apparently do not yet recognize. And for that task, particularly with people who think, a compelling argument embedded a plausible model of the workings of the world might well be the right instrument.

I still hold out a small hope, therefore, that something might be kindled by an intellectually coherent argument that shows that “the battle between good and evil” is a dynamic at the core of the challenge facing us.

But there is another problem. It may be that the necessary change in liberal/secular America must begin at the level of fundamental ideas (worldview). But it seems that there are other problems in the relationship with ideas in that part of America that can impede the task of effecting that necessary change.

These two problems are organically connected. That connection — which might be stated as a disinclination to put the pieces together to see things whole — will be explored further in “Excurses III (p. x) and Escursus IV (p. y).

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