March 23, 2011

Defeat is no refutation

In George Orwell's 1984, the evil O'Brien, a member of the Inner Party, says this to the hapless protagonist Winston:

If you want a vision of the future, imagine a boot stamping on a human face - forever.

What if you knew that was really going to be true, at least for the non-elite (as it seems to me to be some days)? Or what if you somehow knew that humans would fail to address climate change and thus bring about a disastrous future? Would you just give up?

To put it another way, is your interest in working for a better or less bad world based on a realistic hope of getting there or would you struggle on as skillfully as you could without it?

The willingness to continue the struggle without hope is what Tolkien called the "theory of courage," which he felt was expressed in the vision of Norse mythology. According to Tom Shippey, author of The Road to Middle-Earth,

The central pillar of that theory was Ragnarok--the day when gods and men would fight evil and the giants, and inevitably be defeated. Its great statement was that defeat is no refutation. The right side remains right even if it has no ultimate hope at all. In a sense this Northern mythology asks more of men, even makes more of them, than Christianity, for it offers them no heaven, no salvation, no reward for virtue except the sombre satisfaction of having done what is right.

This view of things speaks to my condition on many if not most days. I do believe it is possible with luck and technique and cunning to make some things a little better or less bad here and there. But I have no vision of a utopia or real hope for realizing some final goal of a truly just society and I don't think it's necessary to have either to keep up the fight.

HEALTH CARE REFORM turns one year old today.

"HAVE YOU NO DECENCY, SIR?" Apparently not. Here's an interesting op-ed on union busting in Wisconsin.

UPPER BIG BRANCH. New federal criminal charges have been filed in the wake of the Massey mine disaster investigation. Here are more details from Coal Tattoo.

CHUPACABRAS are (apparently) mythological monsters--the literal translation of the Spanish word is "goat-sucker." To find out more about such beasts, which are entirely unwelcome at Goat Rope Farm, click here and here.

NOTE: It is with some trepidation that I admit to scheduling this post to appear a few hours in advance so I can reacquaint myself with sleep. The last time I did this, the tsunami hit Japan. I trust (and hope) that there was no causal relation between the two events. If anything really bad happens between now and then, let me state emphatically once again that I was against it.


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