Theories Can Crash and Burn–2

“We The People”
(Okay, Maybe 30% of Us)

A few days ago day blogger Jill Dennison posted an “Open Letter to Congress” dealing with a number of issues of relevance to the American people today. I’m going to snatch one of her thoughts as I continue my article about the Women’s Movement in North American and its fiery, hugely successful campaign for Prohibition.

Along with a requests to reign in President Trump and/or his policies, Ms Dennison asks Congress to do something to restrict the sale of firearms, a hot topic in the US these days:
“We The People have made it clear that we want stricter control over firearms in the hands of civilians. We want a ban on assault weapons, waiting periods, and stronger background checks that are actually enforced in all venues.”

Probably some — maybe a lot of — elected representatives agree with these “We the people” and would be ready to do something to prevent the mass shootings happening too often in the US these days. The trouble for politicians is, “We the other people” have to be appeased, too. Restricting access to firearms would involve a showdown with the NRA, a group with a powerful lobby in Congress. If I understand rightly, after the recent shooting in Florida, the National Rifle Association strongly resisted the idea of setting any age limitation for the purchasers of firearms.

And there are a lot of US citizens who cling to the Second Amendment as their only hope of defense, should a modern King George send his Redcoat army— now bearing powerful automatic weapons — to try taking over the US. Or should a Hitler-type dictator arise within the US and take control of the military.

Trouble is, elected leaders who turn into dictators usually are initially popular and successful. By the time things start going south, a lot of the potential resistance had been disabled. It takes time to organize an effective counter-assault — especially when part of the people don’t agree that it’s necessary or that it will work. And then, who will lead this resistance? That can be another battle!

Historians say Hitler was initially quite popular and had an appealing agenda — at least appealing to large group of German voters. Some people got nervous about what he was saying, but he was successful in turning the depressed German economy around. Our parents say his scheme even appealed to a number of German North Americans, some of whom packed up and moved back to Germany to be part of his new order.

The Americans have always referred to the US as a “melting pot,” but those of us looking on see some large lumps in the sauce, factions that could give problems, if push came to shove. Factions that may make a united defense difficult to organize.

Here in Canada, most of us understand the different factions that make up our people and the potential for division. The general “East versus West” sentiments; more particularly Eastern bureaucrats and manufacturing interests against Prairie Folk with an agriculture-based economy. (Though this is changing.) Some folks in British Columbia threaten to pull out and form their own country; Quebec has some strong voices for independence. And then there are various ethnic groups within the whole, not necessarily divisive, but having a voice and capable of taking sides.

When you start out on a political platform, it’s important to understand that you are NOT “We the people.” You are part of “we the people.” And “we the other part of the people” may see even the main issues in a totally different light. This was a reality the WCTU, comprised mainly of Protestant evangelical church women and their supporters, seemed to not grasp when they began their campaign for Prohibition.

They thought they were speaking for all women. When they finally realized that a lot of women wanting the vote were of a different mind-set, or world- view, the movement was headed in the opposite direction than they had envisioned.

To be continued.

Theories Can Crash and Burn

What Is Truth?

The two neatly dressed young men stood on my doorstep, ready to discuss various problems of society and offer their solution. They were well versed on issues of eternal consequence as well. Had I been open to instruction they’d have no doubt produced their Book of Mormon, ready to enlighten me.

Over the years I’ve observed a few things about human nature and beliefs, right and wrong. We talked a bit and I told them, “I believe if we really love the Truth above all — if we love it so much we’re willing to let truth delete all our pet theories and reasoning — God will show us what is true and we’ll make it to Heaven someday.”

One of my young listeners spoke up and quite sincerely agreed with me.

So there we stood, the Mennonite and the Mormons, totally disagreed on doctrine yet agreed on something vital. The power of God. The ability and willingness of God to enlighten seeking humans. Our ability to grasp it — if we let go of our own formulations.

Having just come through Easter season, we’ve been reminded of Jesus standing in Pilate’s Judgement Hall. Again we hear Pilate’s question, “What is truth?”

He didn’t ask this because he really wanted to know. If you read the account you realize that Pilate knew full well what the facts were in this case. His question was really a sigh of frustration. a wish that truth would be more convenient for the situation he was facing.

This question has replayed through all ages, all issues, all human minds. Where in all this muddle of logic, feelings, rhetoric, and examples, do I find the truth?

Logic, Passion, Rhetoric, Reality

I’ve been pondering a variety of issues in the past few days, choosing certain avenues and exploring the adjoining side streets. What started this process was seeing a recently-published book on the Prohibition years in North America. In fact I bought it and am eager to read this writer’s take on the great experiment. A theory that should have worked — but instead crashed and burned.

Twenty-odd years back I did a study of the Women’s Movement both here and in Britain, mainly because of a friend who was really enthused about the subject. What we call the Women’s Movement today built up momentum in the late 1800s with a demand that the right to vote be extended to women. One arm of this movement, the Women’s Christian Temperance Movement (WCTM), threw their weight behind this demand and gave the movement a lot of its rhetoric. They did not give the movement its ultimate direction.

Once women gained the right to vote, the WCTM focussed on pushing through Prohibition laws. As my friend explained, “Their hearts were in the right place.” They saw how many women and children were victims of poverty and abuse because the father, the family breadwinner, was at the mercy of his “thirst.” The WCTU wanted to rescue destitute families and relieve suffering caused by alcoholism. Yes, their hearts were in the right place. And they used some powerful, logical rhetoric.

‘Twas a dangerous cliff, as they freely confessed,
Though to walk near its crest was so pleasant;
But over its terrible edge there had slipped
A duke and full many a peasant.
So the people said something would have to be done,
But their projects did not at all tally;
Some said, “Put a fence ’round the edge of the cliff,”
Some, “An ambulance down in the valley.”
Etc.
From “The Ambulance Down in the Valley”
by Joseph Malins (1895)

Pondering the obvious failure of Prohibition started me thinking about the difference between Theory, Rhetoric, and Fact. Why so some things work so well in theory and not in fact? Skillful use of rhetoric fires people up, seemingly everyone gets on board, this is going to work — then what goes wrong?

To be continued.