The Benedict Option
An email exchange on “the Benedict Option:”
On Dec 21, 2015, at 5:20 PM, CW wrote:
I’m sending this piece to people I have had some discussions with over the last few years about the state of the world and also about the Church. I don’t know who this guy is, but he may be the guest speaker at a conservative group’s next meeting that I used to belong to and have some respect for. It also has a certain positive message (despite the overall sad themes of the article) and so it seemed appropriate for the holiday season.
On Dec 22, 2015, at 8:45 AM, Peter wrote
This is very good. Just some comments that occur to me upon first reading.
"I commend to you again Noah Millman’s piece pointing out that Establishment politicians of the Left and Right are in many ways no better than Trump on the whole “fascist” thing. They just have a different way of talking about the things they do, to keep them respectable in polite society. In the end, I don’t believe that Trump is going to be the GOP nominee, and I believe that the American people will be forced to choose between a Democrat and a Republican who are the problem, not the solution. Don’t get me wrong here: Trump’s not a solution either. What his candidacy reveals, at least to me, is how little authority the US political establishment has.”
This is where I am at. He might have emphasized - more? at all? - that Trump serves the status quo, as that is his role, by making the “Establishment politicians” seem moderate, when in fact they are what I call “mainstream extremists.” I even heard someone on MSNBC the other day say, seriously, “I never thought I would miss George W. Bush.” Amazingly, that war criminal is now to be longed for, probably along with Cheney. This is quite a magic trick ala’ “the sorcerer” in O’Brien’s book, “In the Lake of the Woods” who could make whole villages and even his wife disappear. Trump, with the media’s complicity, makes our extremists disappear. Poof! And they are gone!
Recently, I have been asking myself - because there are so few I feel safe talking with about politics any longer - When is it necessary to reject, to withdraw from a corrupt regime? To “retire,” as Sheriff Bell did in No Country for Old Men, in order to “save one’s soul?”
I have also come to respond, if asked, about voting in 2016, that I will not be voting because none of the candidates will do anything to keep us safe or increase our safety and I don’t want the blood they shed to be on my hands. [Perhaps this is what Sheriff Bell had in mind, not wanting the blood to be on his hands.] People seem puzzled by this but no one really seems to notice the accusation my response contains. Of if they do, they don’t get angry as a result.
Having once been a Catholic, I find Dreher’s “Francis option” unconvincing. As good as he is, he will not successfully reform what is just another corrupt institution. It is great that Francis is pope and what he says and does warms the heart; but in the final analysis the institutional regime will reassert itself in the end. Consult Weber or Machiavelli. I think perhaps Dreher knows this which is why he goes with the “local option.”
So what is one to do? Perhaps what humans have always done: Choose the private life, indulge as Dreher says, the “imagination,” by recognizing that we humans should be “on a personal quest to enlarge the soul, liberate the spirit, and light up the brain. On that quest, politics [is] simply a roadblock of stentorian baboons.” [Tom Robbins, Skinny Legs and All]
And we certainly have our share of “stentorian baboons” these days.
I told Linda this morning that I hoped that your response would have a reference to Sheriff Bell in it and , as usual, you don’t disappoint. I agree with everything you say. I would also add another reference that I have always liked- Socrates’ argument (Book 6?) that sometimes it is better just to stand by the wall to stay out of the rain. So we have a Sheriff Bell option and a Socrates option to go with the Benedict option. It’s very amusing to me that the last time I went to one of the meetings of the Academy of Philosophy and Letters, I made reference to both Sheriff Bell and Socrates’ quote and got nowhere. I also don’t care much for the Benedict option but if you secularized it a bit, it could be OK. Real liberalism assumes the search for the true, the good and the beautiful is an individual quest that is pursued in a variety of ways, sometimes alone, sometimes in voluntary groups of like-minded people. Why do so many religious people believe that the goal should be for everyone to be forced to behave according to their rules? The only path to truth that begins in freedom is peithos- persuasion. How could it be otherwise if you actually believe in anything like the spirit or the soul? The turning of the soul is the primary experience of being and it is an individual experience.
All teachers know (or should know) that the true “seekers” come in every shape and color and are very different from the “true believers.”
Love the Tom Robbins quote.
Thanks for the kind words about not disappointing. Here is the full Robbins quote. I use to challenge my students with this quote and say, “What would your mindset have to be to just laugh at a Hitler? That is, really laugh at him, treat him and genuinely see him as a joke?” Some of the students would get that it would take “transforming one’s self” and “rearranging one’s perceptions” in ways that were quite difficult but others did not. I use to say to Nick when he was down because students weren’t responding to him: “Nick, if they did that they would have to rearrange their entire minds. And that’s not only a lot of work. It’s also a bit scary.”
From Skinny Legs and All, by Tom Robbins
“She understood suddenly, and for no particular reason of which she was aware, that it was futile to work for political solutions to humanity’s problems because humanity’s problems were not political. Political problems did exist, all right, but they were entirely secondary. The primary problems were philosophical, and until the philosophical problems were solved, the political problems would have to be solved over and over and over again. The phrase ‘vicious circle’ was coined to describe the ephemeral effectiveness of almost any political activity.
“For the ethical, political activism was seductive because it seemed to offer the possibility that one could improve society, make things better, without going through the personal ordeal of rearranging one’s perceptions and transforming one’s self. For the unconscionable, political reactivism was seductive because it seemed to protect one’s holdings and legitimize one’s greed. But both sides were gazing through a kerchief of illusion.
“The monkey wrench in the progressive machinery of primate evolution was the propensity of the primate band to take its political leaders – its dominant males – too seriously. Of benefit to the band only when it was actively threatened by predators, the dominant male (or political boss) was almost wholly self-serving and was naturally dedicated not to liberation but to control. Behind his chest-banging and fang display, he was largely a joke and could be kept in his place (his place being that of a necessary evil) by disrespect and laughter. If, for example, when Hitler stood up to rant in the beer halls of Munich, the good drinkers had taken him more lightly, had they, instead of buying his act, snickered and hooted and pelted him with sausage skins, the Holocaust might have been avoided.
“Of course, as long as there were willing followers, there would be exploitive leaders. And there would be willing followers until humanity reached that philosophical plateau where it recognized that its great mission in life had nothing to do with any struggle between classes, races, nations, or ideologies, but was, rather, a personal quest to enlarge the soul, liberate the spirit, and light up the brain. On that quest, politics was simply a roadblock of stentorian baboons.” (pp.405-406)