But first, I found this article on Liberalism and what it’s up against that was published yesterday. It’s by Edward Fawcett, who has just written a book called Liberalism. Just read it because I think there are nuggets there that we need to digest. I’ve already gotten some ideas about how American liberals can fight back.
Ok, now, onto the hippy punching.
As many of you know, I am a Tolkien junky. Seriously, I can’t get enough of the guy. Someday, we’re all going to recognize what a genius he was. His philosophy is deep and he was a careful observer of human nature.
One of the most puzzling of his characters from the Lord of the Rings is Tom Bombadil. Even Peter Jackson didn’t know what to do with him and anyone who has read the books remembers that the story loses momentum when the characters travel through the Old Forest and meet Tom Bombadil and his lady, Goldberry. That’s a movie killer so old Tom and Goldberry had to go.
I took the name Goldberry on DailyKos when I started blogging because she was the river’s daughter and I love Pittsburgh. But I also liked her part in the story as a sort of natural tranquilizer. She’s all about rain and dancing and laughter and getting a good night’s sleep. Ok, I’m nothing like that but a girl can dream, right?
Back to Tom Bombadil. Tom is a merry fellow. His jacket is blue and his boots are yellow. He’s in tune with nature and spends his days getting to know the trees and the wind under the hill and probably puts a little weed in his pipe after his supper of bread and honey and cheese and wine. Tom Bombadil probably owned Yasgur’s Farm.
But note that you can easily remove Tom and his old lady from the story and no one even misses them. So, why did Tolkien write this little diversion in the first place? Tolkien provides a very telling answer:
Tom Bombadil is not an important person- to the narrative. I suppose he has some importance as a ‘comment’. I mean, I do not really write like that (he is just an invention who first appeared in the Oxford Magazine about 1933), and he represents something I feel important, though I would not be prepared to analyze the feeling precisely. I would not, however, have left him in if he did not have some kind of function. I might put it this way.
The story is cast in terms of a good side, and a bad side, beauty against ruthless ugliness, tyranny against kingship, moderated freedom with consent against compulsion that has long lost any object save mere power, and so on; but both sides in some degree, conservative or destructive, want a measure of control. but if you have, as it were taken ‘a vow of poverty’, renounced control, and take your delight in things for themselves without reference to yourself, watching, observing, and to some extent knowing, then the question of the rights and wrongs of power and control might become utterly meaningless to you, and the means of power quite valueless. It is a natural pacifist view, which always arises in the mind when there is a war.
But the view in Rivendell seems to be that it is an excellent thing to have represented, but that there are in fact things with which it cannot cope; and upon which its existence nonetheless depends. Ultimately, only the victory of the West will allow Bombadil to continue, or even to survive. Nothing would be left to him in the world of Sauron…
I find it interesting that Bombadil was created in 1933. This was about the time when Hitler was making a name for himself. The most recent episode of the podcast History of WWII by Ray Harris called The End of the End describes this period of time. Churchill read Mein Kampf and saw the danger as well as admiration for what Hitler was trying to do for Germany. He immediately asked for a report on the military readiness of Britain in the event that Hitler came to power. He was concerned that the allies had mothballed their military might too precipitously while backing off on demands for reparations payments. Ironically, Hitler was surveying the political landscape of Britain at the same time and was pulling for Chamberlain to ascend, not Churchill. Anyway, go listen to the whole podcast for a better idea of what was going on. Ray Harris is very thorough, especially with respect to Churchill’s history and motivations.
My point is that there were many in Britain who were aware of what was going on on the Continent with both Mussolini and Hitler. Tolkien must have been one of them. And while he hated war (he participated in the Battle of the Somme during WWI), he was not a pacifist. When it comes to fighting for your friends and the defenseless, Tolkien thought war necessary. That didn’t make him a war hawk.
But if you think that the Bombadil diversion is all about war, you’d be missing the point. If Sauron could achieve his goals without the bloody orc melees, it would still result in a world where Tom Bombadil could not peacefully exist. What I think Tolkien was saying is that you can not hide yourself away from the world, live an ascetic existence and not be affected by what goes on outside your boundaries. If you have the power to do good and choose not to use it, you will be subject to the people who use their powers to do ill. At the same time, hippies are useful because they have this affinity for nature and preservation and environmentalism. So, the combination of them being utterly useless to the fight along with their love of beauty and nature makes us want to punch them in the face. Over and over again.
I get pretty annoyed with the ‘pacifism at all costs’ faction of my side. There are times when war is absolutely a stupid, destructive waste of money and time. Take Iraq, for example. That was morally an evil war and none of us should be proud of what happened there. We sent young men and women to get blown up for a bunch of narcissistic free marketers who wanted to experiment and rob a sovereign nation of its oil. It just doesn’t get worse than that. And I’m not blaming the soldiers who we sent. They’re trained to carry out orders. But the reason we sent them to Iraq was just evil. There’s no doubt about it.
Afghanistan was a different story. We had an obligation to put the Taliban and Al Qaeda down for our safety and the safety of others. Should we have gotten involved in Libya? I would argue yes. There was a tipping point in Libya and we helped it over the edge. Better to pull the bandaid off quickly than allow a civil war to go on indefinitely. I don’t know where the tipping point is in Syria but I don’t like the way the instability and breakdown of government in the region is going. I think the Kurds have got the right idea. They were prepared and vigilant and well trained.
But pacifism is only one part of the equation when we are fighting the bad side. Right now, the bad side is moving rapidly to quash net neutrality and fair elections. Sometimes, I feel like the Bombadils of our side are still wringing their hands about GMO crops and slinging words like corporatist around while the bad guys are done with dialog and moving in for the kill. I worry about politicians and activists who are not focused on the very imminent threats to their survival and are still looking for a way to scapegoat the Clintons.
We’ve never lived in a feudal system, although that seems to be changing rather rapidly. But it pays to remember that back in the middle ages, the forests were owned by the king and managed by his agents. It wasn’t just the forests that were his property but every animal and twig. Poaching deer and collecting firewood could get you hanged. I’m not sure what the status of water lilies would have been but there wouldn’t have been any crackling fire in the grate in Tom Bombadil’s house in the forest. Sleeping peacefully would be impossible.
Chamberlain Obama administration has its own reasons for punching the hippies but I think the hippies give them plenty of material to work with. This is a shame because our side can use all the help it can get. But unless they are willing to give up their isolation and put their efforts behind a power, and all the icky things that power needs to do to accomplish its goals, they’re going to end up on the wrong side of history by default.