A few weeks ago, as the Mad Dog and I were talking after the Spawn’s graduation, and after everyone else had gone to bed, I told him that I’m seriously considering withdrawing from the political world altogether, to the extent of ceasing to vote. Just typing that chills my blood — I know too well the blood and treasure that were spent to seize, hold, and share that franchise. But at this point, I can’t help but ask myself if voting (at least beyond the most local level) is an act of complicity in an irremediably corrupt and grasping system, and one that simultaneously insists on intruding into every aspect of culture. Contrary to the cliche: “If you don’t vote, you can’t complain,” might it be true that if one does vote, he has lent his imprimatur to the result, and thereby forfeits the ethos to complain? Would the refusal to participate be the more real act of civil disobedience/resistance/dissent?
And on that note, last night I read Vaclav Havel’s essay, “The Power of the Powerless.” Havel suggests in that essay (which you may read here) that perhaps what is necessary is a version of Benda’s “parallel polis.” I think in a way that’s what folks like Rod Dreher have in mind with what is being called the Benedict Option, which Wiki describes as:
the idea that those who want to live with traditional morality should separate themselves to some degree from mainstream society and try to live in intentional communities or other subcultures.
One wonders, if such communities flourished, how long they would be allowed to do so, and Withywindle suggested last month that this sort of withdrawal may be premature. Of course, Withy has also stated his allegiance to a Republic that he no longer believes to exist and has declared a Presidential sedevacantism, so there are withdrawals and there are withdrawals. Another friend of mine — also in academia, although I won’t identify him or her — has suggested that the only option may be a counterversion of the Gramscian long march.
The odd thing of it all, to me, is that even when I agree with actions taken by the larger culture, I find so many of the proponents of those actions to lack… chivalry? Magnanimity? Charity? … that I am filled with dread of the consequences. As Ace has often said, “You will be made to care,” which is the negation of diversity on the level of the soul. I can’t support that approach to life:
The older I get the more I realize that wielding power is not strength; restraint in using power is strength. Vengeance is not strength; vengeance is weakness, borne of fear and anger, and nourished by grievance.
The strong can afford mercy in a way the weaklings cannot.
Mercy is strength, and goodwill is strength, and restraint is strength.
Empathy is strength. Questioning one’s beliefs is strength. Seeking to actually understand what frightens one’s opponents is strength.
And, yes, as silly as this disordered, perverted Christian thought may be, loving your enemy is strength.
I not only despise these coordinated efforts to shut people up, to make them silent; but I also pity them.
Someone who knows he is right — who knows he has a sense of the Truth — does not need to coerce his opponents into silence. A man speaking the truth should win out, at least three quarters of the time, over those without it.
So these efforts to shut people up seem to me to be borne not of conviction, but of doubt; not of courage, but of fear; not of strength, but of weakness.
These days, the larger culture seems to disagree. And so, I find it may be necessary to retire to the desert, in a sense. This is not an unfamiliar situation for people of my particular intellectual stripe — certainly we can see it in Nock’s “Isaiah’s Job,” which I’ve mentioned before.
But because I’m the person I am, I think I have to take up a small part of Isaiah’s job as well, in the form of attempting to teach works and ideas that contain the true and the beautiful, and to combat the idea that they only matter — indeed that even the ideas of truth and beauty only matter — in the service of some set of power dynamics. I have to do it as well by tending my particular garden of family and music and writing as best I can, even as the kudzu advances. And ultimately, I have to do it by remaining steadfast in the knowledge that this is not our last home, and that one day, I’ll see a world that is perfect, and that when there are parts of that perfection that I might not have been willing to accept here, that God will show me their perfection in a way that even I can understand, and will accept me despite my current blindnesses, whatever they may be. To borrow a phrase from some friends of mine, I must continue as a peculiar person.
That won’t be comfortable, but no one ever said it would be, I guess. So I guess I’ll do those things unless and until I am stopped from doing them, even if I choose to move to the desert.