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Monday: The Palantir

Why is this man smiling?

Most people know J.R.R. Tolkien as the Oxford expert on Anglo-Saxon literature who broke all of the rules when he wrote The Lord of the Rings.  If you have never read Tolkien, you may be under the impression that LOTR was a dungeons and dragons fantasy written for adolescent boys.  That’s how many of us were introduced to it in middle school. But there’s a reason why some of us gravitate to Tolkien that goes beyond the very rich world he created.  He was a very wise man with deep spiritual convictions who lived through the early loss of both parents, the rejection of his extended family over religious differences, the battle of the Somme in World War I, the Depression and the rise of Hitler and the bombing of Britain in WWII.  It would be incorrect to assume that his books were thinly disguised references to these events, even if he did incorporate a some of his own personal history into his tales.  But he did seem to have an uncanny insight into how the powerful operate.  He knew things.

For example, it’s not wise to look into a crystal ball especially when someone else has control over it.  Some of the most tragic figures in the LOTR looked into what they thought was the future and saw only what someone else wanted them to see.  Those images were full of despair and the triumph of evil.  Without a moderating influence, the viewer gave up and gave in.  It takes an almost inhuman strength to overcome the power of relentlessly negative visions of the future.

Some of the most recent commentary in the left blogosphere makes me think of Denethor and Saruman and their palantiris.  The Denethors look into the future and despair, the Sarumans start off with good intentions but think that their intellectual gifts will allow them to control the lesser of two evils.  But the truth is, none of us know what’s going to happen.  The election is still more than a year away.  A lot can happen between now and then.  There could be a twist of fate, an unforeseen event, or what Tolkien calls, a eucatastrophe.  A eucatastrophe is like a shock doctrine event turns a story around and leads to a good ending.

If we give into despair, then surely the propaganda of the palantir will win.  We will give into the temptation to do nothing.  We do not leave ourselves open to the possibilities that may come our way.  We may miss potential allies or fail to take advantage of opportunities.  Palantiris can scare us into inertia.  Don’t let it happen to you.

In the next year, we may see an acceleration of the business cycle, a convergence of events that destroys the foundations of the finance industry, the emergence of a third party, the rise of a new independent labor unit, an unexpected potential candidate. There may be people working behind the scenes or little nobodies whose tiny positive acts have unexpected consequences. We just don’t know.  The best we can do is not let other people crush our spirits, to believe in fairness and justice, and to keep on going for as long as we can.

Oh, and stay away from David Brooks’ columns.