Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Confessions of a "recovering idealist"



Stay "armed" young man. Stay "armed"
(When the wages of virtue can be death)

"Shit" is what you make of it.
Never rely on goodness in others.
Nor show excessive kindness lest
that be taken for weakness.
Be careful whom you trust
for the Devil can come
to you with the face
of an Angel

It's all in how you play the game.
Play for all, settle for less, and always have
an exit strategy

Hope for the best.
Prepare for the worst.
Do not expect mercy from others.

Grant it whenever you can.

Laugh and Love
(But above all laugh
for love requires at least two)


"Farewell, farewell! but this I tell

To thee, thou Wedding-Guest!

He prayeth well, who loveth well

Both man and bird and beast.

"He prayeth best, who loveth best

All things both great and small;

For the dear God who loveth us,

He made and loveth all."

Samuel David Coleridge
The Rime of the Ancient Mariner


A personal theology in film
Confronting evil with restrained firmness
("A little caution makes for a longer life")


A personal theology in song

Some women wait for Jesus, and some women wait for Cain
so I hang upon my altar and I hoist my axe again.
And I take the one who finds me back to where it all began

when Jesus was the honeymoon

and Cain was just the man.

-Leonard Cohen

Saving a Space for Love

Love Without End


Constructing a personal theology involves not just abstract theological texts, but an examination of one's entire life experience.

My own was 69 years in the making -- flowing from an idealistic Quakerly stress on the merits of kindness to a realization that weakness will be exploited, that in situations charged in power, an effort to get along can be a road to disaster.

Avoid too much "loving kindness," too much trust -- unless you hold plenty of the cards.

Stay armed young man, stay armed.

My own voyage reflects my academic and journalism career, my personality, and the nature of my childhood formative times.

These reflections are based on 55 years of studying issues of war and peace, numerous years as journalist and foreign correspondent, and the sometimes searingly brutal realities of academic politics -- where the worst of human nature is often revealed.

I cannot say that I have come much farther than my rejection of Quaker idealism in the 1950's. I grew up in the shadow of the Holocaust -- and learned through hard personal experience that weakness in the name of kindness is no substitute for the ability to manipulate, to hang tough.

So I end up with the theologian Reinhold Niebuhr discovering what is obvious on the streets: that the strong will bully the weak -- and that love (if it hides weakness) will not conquer all.

His classic, Moral Man and Immoral Society, is as relevant today as when first published in 1932.

Experience is my teacher. It taught me nothing that prophet Niebuhr did not warn me of fifty years ago.

The Serenity Prayer
by Reinhold Niebuhr

An idealist may choose safe venues where a veneer of respectability cloaks the cutthroat aspects of life.

But when one ventures out beyond the Eden-like garden of middle class affluence and security one must handle oneself with care.

Saintliness presupposes a willingness to be martyred.

Those of us who are not saints and who have little wish to be martyred had best stay well armed.

Set limits, be firm, do not "speak truth to power" unless you are willing to suffer the consequences.

They can be swift and brutal.

Acquaintances along your road will be exactly as cruel and ruthless as you allow them to be.


In aggregate terms, good often triumphs. But evil will most likely triumph for the individual who does not cultivate strength and the ability to ward off bullies.

This is one reason why toughness and the ability to thoroughly engage in the most brutal of conflicts is essential for the maintenance of most forms of civilization.

The lawyer, the police officer, and the army are powerful and sacred instruments of "God's Will."

These can all be misused, but without them "we are lost."

We can note they are not by themselves sufficient, that they too must be restrained.

True, the advent of new technologies can spread sunlight on evil -- and help dissolve its harmful nature.

But even as we speak, new forms of destruction are being prepared by men and women who will willingly inflict massive pain and death.

Never forget the dark side of the moon.

Gandhi can be nice.

But think twice before turning in your gun.


One way to protect oneself and sally forth in success is to acquire skills and property which other people need.

Then they will develop and show to you their finer points --- respond more positively to shows of reasonable virtue.

When armed with weapons or valuable commodities, one can more easily bring out the positive side of people.

But be careful. Beneath the smiles can be sharks waiting to come out.

If you don't have something valued to sell, you are vulnerable if weak.

Most people instinctively know this without extensive study.

For them there is no reason to construct a blog such as this.

But for some of us who are perennially tempted to be too nice, it is important to stay "on point."

Label Fred "a recovering idealist."

Damn, why did it take so long?

Oh, Lord, perhaps there is still time.

Saving a space for sacrifice
Ft. Wagner: black and white "saints"
of the Civil War

Sometimes there is no choice
but to choose

Sometime this year I will rent a kayak to lay a wreath at what remains of Battery Wagner off Charleston Harbor.

In honor of Robert Gould Shaw and the 54th colored Massachusetts.

Where their sacrifice in front of rebel guns helped open the way for racial equality in the U.S.

Saint Robert was shot down at 25, an idealist.

He scarcely had time to recover from an idealism which was, in part, thrust upon him.

Sometimes there is no choice but to lift idealism's flag.

The price can be high -- when one succumbs to temptation.

Do it if you must....but do not be surprised if "the wages of virtue are death."