By Charlie Johnston
A friend who is a very effective activist said to me the other day that he was worried that we were going to go around kicking every barking dog so much that we miss the central point and come unprepared to the critical moment. I was delighted, for that concern has been at the heart of my approach, as well.
A reader pressed, with real passion, for action right now. Well, the truth is that when I said I decided early on that I would give our religious readers a mulligan for just about everything they would do this spring, I had a lot of reasons for that. Prepare to get a few mixed metaphors ahead – in hopes that one or more of them register in a vivid way for you.
Start off by getting a curtain rod. Balance it on your fingers at either end, so that your left hand is at the far left end of the rod and your right is at the far right end. Then move your right hand slowly left until both your fingers are at the far left end of the rod. No matter how slowly or carefully you try, you will quickly discover it can’t be done. When things get far enough out of equilibrium, the rod will slide over your left finger until a broad equilibrium is reestablished. This is an elementary form of demonstrating the feedback principle or that every action has a reaction. People often envision life as a still photo, but it is not. It is an ever-changing kaleidoscope. We make a LOT of mistakes because we assume that a current trajectory is the permanent trajectory of events, when it NEVER is. How many articles have you seen that start off by saying, “If current trends continue…”? Current trends never continue for very long. The authors of such pieces might as well start by saying, “If something happens that has never happened in the history of the world before, then…”
Human events are dynamic, not static. If you put together the best predictive model you can that takes into account the dynamic rhythms of life and of human behavior, you will rarely be entirely right but you will usually be in the vicinity of accuracy. If you use a static model that limits itself to current trends (as most of the self-acclaimed “smart” set almost always do), you will routinely be wildly wrong. People being people, such benighted researchers almost always wildly exaggerate the impact that our poor species has on events. Right now, many folks panic over the variance in average earth temperatures by as little as two degrees over a century – and are convinced that it is we who are causing it. If a sea rises at the rate of three inches per decade, it portends disaster that we have caused. Everyone knows that eons ago, glaciers receded, continents shifted and such. But it was a mere 30,000 years ago that the land bridge between what is now Alaska and Russia sunk beneath the sea. A mere 15,000 years ago, the Timor Sea in Australia was rising so fast that it moved the coast inland by three miles every year. The great shifts and cataclysms happened before man was on the scene at all and the more recent events I have mentioned occurred when man had about the same global footprint as any other medium-sized animal. We are not the Titans. The earth is not some fragile flower ready to crack if we use too many SUVs. It has all the feedback loops that God designed in nature and has a pulsing rhythm of its very own where it harmonizes with the acts of man and the many animals that make up its eco-system. At best, we are janitors here – not architects.
A lot of bad models predicted that millions of people were going to die from the Wuhan Virus. The models almost all assumed that whatever was the current rate of infection at the time they were set up would be the permanent rate. It was as idiotic as assuming that you will be operating in permanent darkness if you do your calculations at night. It was the modern equivalent of the ancient practice of making sacrifices so that the sun would return and you would not have permanent winter. Idiocy, idiocy and more idiocy – all masquerading as knowledge and in which we play the starring role. New viruses come into the world every few years – usually with an initial high rate of infection which, over many years, recede until they winkle out after immunity has become broad enough – only to be replaced by other batches of new viruses. The course is common and predictable. Within that constant set of changes, some are particularly virulent, some particularly weak. It makes perfect sense to study the effects and characteristics of such things, that we may best determine who is most vulnerable and how best to defend them. But it should be done with the humility that thus it has ever been – and we have survived and thrived anyway.
With the Wuhan Virus, I agreed that it was worthy of extra precaution – but primarily for reasons that much of the establishment and media are trying to bury right now. I was convinced from early on that this virus was bio-engineered by man. If that were the case, it could bear some startling new characteristics and nasty surprises. A couple of weeks of shutdown early on to flatten the curve seemed reasonable, even if a bit of an overreaction. It doesn’t bother me that some people take more (or on occasion less) dramatic actions than I would – so long as they are not wildly unreasonable. A shutdown until a “cure” is found – something that has never been accomplished with a virus in human history? That is not a precaution, it is civilizational suicide. Who needs a giant meteor of death when the idiots who call themselves the smart set are eager to destroy us all for our own good? (Though smallpox was eradicated, it was NOT cured. It was eradicated by creating such a comprehensive herd immunity that it could no longer survive. The “precautions” we are taking now are designed to impede the development of herd immunity…so not only are we trying for a cure that has never been achieved with any virus; we are actively repudiating the one thing that has previously eradicated a virus.) Aren’t we the clever ones!
I have been forlornly astonished that it seems many people are discovering, for the first time, that viruses are primarily transmitted by personal contact and that those who have the most vulnerability because of other factors such as age, health and existing conditions are most vulnerable to any virus – new or old, and that, ultimately, death is not a preventable condition. Like a lion in pursuit of a herd of antelope, the virus culls the herd of the most vulnerable. This situation has laid bare that there is much more we could do in a targeted way to protect the most vulnerable from these viruses, both new and old – and that we should do everything we reasonably can to do so. We should also do so knowing that if we do our very best, tens of thousands of the most vulnerable are going to die every year from viral complications. It has absolutely astonished me to see that so many advocate that the herd of antelope should be forced into a cave where it must starve many of its healthiest, most vigorous members in hopes that none of the most vulnerable will be ever culled from the herd again. Civilizational suicide.
Beyond this, I know very well that one of the satan’s signature moves is to isolate those he targets for destruction. That he has succeeded in getting much of the whole world to isolate itself sparks a primal dread in me. The devil uses all our worst qualities and our most extreme emotions to herd us into the vulnerable positions he prefers to attack us from. It unnerves me that we have been so willing, even if it turns out it was justified for a time to make ourselves so vulnerable to him.
So why, given all this, am I not screaming at the top of my lungs for it to stop right now and everybody do things my way?
First, the smartest, most honorable, and shrewdest men are sometimes wrong. That includes me. I have three friends I deeply respect who are much more alarmist about this virus than I am. One was decidedly right on an issue on which I was decidedly wrong a few years back – and the hedging of my bets borne of my respect for him spared me some embarrassment. I do not think I am the end-all in these things – and do trust that, under God, time will usually sort them out. That is not to say I dither when action must be taken; rather, that while candidly espousing my views, I don’t usually act until it is absolutely necessary or clear.
Second, having been the actual final word in several major organizations, I know it is a LOT tougher than it looks. I respect those in authority who accept actual responsibility for the actions they take, even when I think they are misguided for a time. Most of those who shout the loudest from the sidelines about acting with “courage,” are the quickest to run like scalded dogs when they actually have to take responsibility for anything controversial. So it is my default setting to give any in authority the benefit of the doubt for as long as I reasonably can.
Third, on the major issues, hectoring or strong-arming someone into conceding to my point of view accomplishes very little. If they are not actually convinced, as soon as they see an opening, they will reassert themselves. It turns out that convincing someone to shut up or to concede to your will is NOT the same thing as convincing them. If you want a permanent victory, you can’t just prevail on a particular topic, you have to change the very mindset that made dangerous error possible. I believe that most people want to be just (while understanding that a substantial segment just wants power). If I strong-arm those people who want to be just but disagree with me, I have not convinced them – and usually drive them further into the opposition camp. But if I calculate my comments to force the opposition to respond with both words and action, we both reveal ourselves. If I am wrong, I will come to see it. If they are honorable and just, I will come to see it. And if I am right, those who are honorable and just among my opponents will come to see it and embrace it. A person who has become amenable to my position because of what they have seen with their own eyes becomes a steadfast ally – all the more steadfast because I made no effort to strong-arm them. A person I have browbeat to accede to my position is no ally at all – but an opponent suppressed for a time who will restlessly look for a way overthrow my transient victory.
This is the method I almost always use for the big issues. You have to have faith that most people will ultimately want to do what is most right and just. If they don’t, then there will be no alternative to serious strife anyway, so what have you got to lose by taking the most positive construction of others motives? In addition, I try to determine and focus on the key central points. Many causes are lost because the advocates are so easily led to chase restlessly after points that are extraneous to the larger resolution. I know. I have defeated opponents by luring them into chasing after shiny objects or confusing their missiles with chaff – and so missing the main point entirely. I am VERY sensitive about not being so distracted, myself.
In Minnesota, the Catholic Bishops decided to open the Mass back up regardless of what the state says. Frankly, I didn’t expect that. They won’t be the last. We have allies we don’t know – and we have allies who, themselves, do not yet know they are our allies. I do trust in the decency, honor and good will of most folks, even those I disagree with. Right now, most all of the strong-arming is being done by the anti-God left. That can win battles – at the cost of driving many of those they strong-arm into my camp. That is why battles won by such means almost always ultimately translate into lost wars. I am disturbed that some who agree with me on principle agree with the left on strong-arm tactics.
I take all of this very seriously. This crisis is receding even now. By the end of June, we will be largely back to normal whatever power-mad governors and mayors command. Hopefully, it will be a normal that takes seriously the need for targeted precautions without isolating the vulnerable or bankrupting the robust. Yet I am convinced we will see a full-scale renewed assault by the anti-God left – and sooner rather than later. It will be the decisive battle between the Church and the anti-Church, the Gospel versus the anti-Gospel. It is for the very future of humanity. It is not sufficient to win the day. We must comport ourselves in a way that will bear fruit that will last. That is my commitment – and why I will not panic. If the only way I can win is by strong-arming those who disagree with me, than I cannot win at all – and neither can you.
“For I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord,
Plans for welfare and not for evil,
To give you a future and a hope.”
Now go forth with sure confidence and steadfast resolve. Bear fruit that will last.