One of the strangest revolutionary problems, is how to broaden the membership enough to give the movement political weight, without overly diluting, or even completely losing the original principles and message.
Considering how complicated and intellectual many revolutionary theories are, this has always been a difficult puzzle. Simplify and emotionalize your message too much, and you recruit a whole pile of members who are really there for the same reasons people used to enjoy going to a witch burning or public hanging in the square – that creepy age old pleasure of group bloodsport.
The second order problem is that of course – you can’t possibly convince the reasonable middle that your ideas are reasonable, when you brand your group with an overemotional emphasis. One classic solution for revolutionaries is to say “There is no middle – everyone neutral is complicit” which idea sounded a whole lot more heroic and romantic in the days before we had repeated experience of self-actualizing terrorists. Now that we do have this evidence we can say with confidence – no, that cannot possibly be sound reasoning, folks. That path takes you straight into crazy territory.
So what are we (now massively dumbed-down and overemotional on every side by long habit) left to work with? Somehow it always comes down to rallying over the other guy being evil, and the story is never about us being foolish, or having been ignorant before, but learning from it. Unlikely enough on the odds – much closer to impossible when we think about patterns of human self deception.
In simplest terms, this episode is all about untangling simplified ideas that feel certain from actions that do great harm. Only, there’s nothing simple about this stuff – not unless a huckster is telling you a twisted version, to steal your power.
Humble and fallible honesty isn’t some idealist position, nor is it a weak basis around which to gather. I am convinced that openness and honesty is the only sound way that all kinds of sincere people and ideas can meet and have a decent chance of making more sense together.
This piece, from my collection Night Song for Cigar-Box Banjo fits rather perfectly with this episode. And for my friends who are curious about sources, the fine rare advice came from Rumi’s dad.
I came across some great
eight hundred year old advice
about how to deal with a furious mob
when they all have things wrong
You can’t say “Don’t be mad”
mad is the point of a mob
you could only say that to an
individual human being
Instead say, “Yes, I agree with you,
if this was the right person,
and they really had done what you think,
this fury would indeed be righteous
I wish this observation was not still
so relevant today. We do not like to
think that we are much like the people of
the thirteenth century
But mob is the format of our age
our discussions are competing furies –
most every statement an exaggeration
expressing frustration, imbalance
The all-consuming secular individualists
and the all-subsuming religious zealots
each forever accusing the other of the most
evil vanity, ignorance, and avarice
Lightly passing-over the similar sins of those
who they like more and know better and
magnifying those of others, so as to always
have something to hand to blame
“Acknowledge a higher power” is a true and
good suggestion, but a lousy accusation to make
So few who wave their symbols high, live their
own lives as if they believed in love and humility
God can be a right cause – and so can humanity
Anger, violence, hatred and selfishness cannot
I say – were they both correct about each other
If the colour of our team-jersey, or the sign on our lawn
truly did say everything about what we were inside
If a mob really was the only social unit that we,
in our infinite self-absorption and laziness
were still capable of forming, we might
very well all deserve this mess we’re in