April 22, 2009

The Fellowship of the Ring

Image courtesy of wikipedia.

The theme at Goat Rope lately is Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings and some practical insights it offers about working for social justice. As I've argued here before, one mark of a good story is that it is one you can find as well as lose yourself in.

I remember reading somewhere that at least some leaders and participants in the Civil Rights movement--including the great Robert Moses--drew inspiration from Tolkien's trilogy for their work in the Deep South.

It makes perfect sense to me. Whatever Tolkien's shortcomings might or might not be, The Lord of the Rings makes perfect sense when you're engaged in a struggle against the odds for social justice. Over the next few days, I'm going to talk about some examples of this.

The first on is all too obvious. If you're going up against the latest version of the Dark Lord or Saruman, you need some strong and diverse coalitions.

Getting there isn't easy. In the trilogy, the good guys don't have much use for each other in the beginning. The humans from Gondor and Rohan, once allies, mistrust each other. Elves and dwarves have issues from way back. And nobody important cared about hobbits. It makes getting coal miners and environmentalists to work together on issues seem pretty simple. But it can be done, at least sometimes.

Sometimes things get so bad you have to either form coalitions or just give up. But coalitions, which tend to be at the organizational level, are only held together by relationships at the personal level, as exemplified in the story by the small band that sets out to try to destroy the ring.

In a small place like El Cabrero's beloved state of West Virginia, where nothing is ever forgotten, relationships are everything. One state politician once quipped "In West Virginia, everything's political except politics and that's personal."

If I had to choose between winning a big one and damaging coalitions and relationships versus losing a big one and maintaining them (and I have been there), I'd probably prefer the latter. Struggles come and go, and victory or defeat often depends on conditions you don't completely control. Relationships take a long time to build and are hard to repair when damaged.

Winning and keeping them would be my first choice though.

AFTER THE FALL. This NY Times article discusses Obama's post-recession (assuming we get there) vision for capitalism.

LOCAL FOOD makes sense in lots of ways, but it can be a pretty complex issue.

TAXES. Here's economist Dean Baker's contribution to a debate on the merits of progressive taxation.

WASTED. Bill McKibben discusses our wasteful habits and the possibility of changing them.

DOWN TO THE WIRE. For addicts of the late lamented HBO series The Wire, here's a lengthy interview between Bill Moyers and Wire creator David Simon.


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