My book, THE PARABLE OF THE TRIBES, contains this central passage:
Imagine a group of tribes living within reach of one another. If all choose the way of peace, then all may live in peace. But what if all but one choose peace, and that one is ambitious for expansion and conquest? What can happen to the others when confronted by an ambitious and potent neighbor? Perhaps one tribe is attacked and defeated, its people destroyed and its lands seized for the use of the victors. Another is defeated, but this one is not exterminated; rather, it is subjugated and transformed to serve the conqueror. A third seeking to avoid such disaster flees from the area into some inaccessible (and undesirable) place, and its former homeland becomes part of the growing empire of the power-seeking tribe. Let us suppose that others observing these developments decide to defend themselves in order to preserve themselves and their autonomy. But the irony is that successful defense against a power-maximizing aggressor requires a society to become more like the society that threatens it. Power can be stopped only by power, and if the threatening society has discovered ways to magnify its power through innovations in organization or technology (or whatever), the defensive society will have to transform itself into something more like its foe in order to resist the external force.
Our situation in America today is, in important ways, parallel.
A force has arisen among us that is bent upon the maximization of its power.
That fact implies for the other elements of the system two options: either do what is necessary to be able to resist that power, or suffer the consequences of being dominated by that power.
Liberalism has failed to face that choice, and so, by default, it is surrendering control over the destiny of the American system to those for whom power is a priority, even an obsession.
We can now look back and see how, in area after area, the force on the right has developed long-term strategies, has devoted human and financial resources for executing those strategies, and has taken over large areas of the American power system.
One example: the courts. For almost forty years, the right has worked persistently to take over the courts. They have groomed their juridical soldiers, they have funded organizations, they have waged propaganda wars…. And now they are able to get what once were extreme measures adopted by a five-person majority on the Supreme Court.
Liberals have stood by, neither rising to match the power-strategies of the right nor acknowledging their forfeiture of this and other crucial battles.
By ignoring the reality of the situation, liberalism has surrendered our destiny to the control of an element in the system that is non-random in unfortunate ways. The obsession with power is not representative of the human, or the American, nature. It is, rather, a symptom of a kind of pathology.
It is entirely understandable that normal people, whose sense of what life is about embraces a healthy assortment of values, would not want to have to emulate a power-maximizing force like that of the corporatist-imperialist-manichean right. One would rather live one’s own more balanced life.
But it is the tragedy of The Parable of the Tribes that, when confronted with an effective power-maximizer, a peace-loving group no longer has the option in most wants. It can no longer safely continue as it was before that threatening force beset it.
That’s what I refer to in THE PARABLE OF THE TRIBES as “Unfree Choices.”
Imagine a man walking down a street. He suddenly feels a gun pressed against his back and hears a voice saying, “Your money or your life!” He is being offered a choice, but it is not a choice he would choose. He would probably state his real preferences: “To tell you the truth, I’d rather keep my money and continue on my way uninjured as I was doing before you appeared.” Because of the coercive circumstances in which he finds himself, this option is foreclosed.
Likewise, for us liberals, who would like to be able to continue living our comfortable American lives as of old, leaving the realm of power to the people who like that game, we no longer have that option.
It is in that context that we can regard this passage from Joe Bageant’s DEER HUNTING WITH JESUS:
The very nature of liberalism, with its emphasis on diversity and individuality, makes it hard to organize. The bigger problem, though, is that liberals, like most other Americans, have lost the skills of grassroots organization, not to mention the will. Clarkson [an author of a book on the battle between theocracy and democraqcy now ongoing in America]observes. “Every good citizen should learn how to be a good activist—or a good candidate. Yes, it may mean making some choices, like less television and less surfing the Internet. But that is how a constitutional democracy is organized. That’s the way it works. If we abandon the playing field to the other side, they win by default.”
And it is in this context that can be understood my own decision, at this stage of my life, when I would rather be focused on the good, the true and the beautiful –where, more particularly, I would wish to pursue further the MAPPING THE SACRED project that I began with my “Pathways into the Experience of Deep Meaning” (see www.nonesoblind.org/blog/?p=9265)– am instead running for Congress in an effort to do whatever I can to change the power dynamic now degrading my country.