Letter to a Young Ideologue

You’re 17. You are not too young to think critically or have power such that your views may be taken seriously, but you are too young to know what you are advocating for when you say that fascism ought to be trusted. You are terrifyingly misguided. Take these hard words not as condemnation of your person but as a righteous challenge from an elder who cares: you are young and easily led astray by visions of grandeur. Our American ancestors fought fascism time and time again. You want to not witness our country fall: that if it did, “the sacrifices of our forefathers would be all for nothing”, you say, and that this thought genuinely frightens you. It frightens me, too, because young people burning for want of direction with unpracticed and uncontained passion are easily beguiled into falling for exactly the all-consuming ideologies which they nobly set out to combat.

It’s natural for all of us to believe that our beliefs will not change, but we must take the braver road of allowing ourselves to be challenged into seeing what we have not seen before. Our collective human proclivity to moral error can become murderous within us before we awaken to a bloodbath from which there is no return. Remember that liberty and tyranny are incompatible. I truly believe that no one sets out to live under tyranny: we set out to live in liberty and stumble into the trap of tyranny on the way. This lesson has been learned time and time again from failed revolutions the world over. I advise you to mistrust any ideology which asserts in absolutist certainty that “the system itself is corrupt”. It was by luck and wonder that our colonial American ancestors were able to overthrow their British oppressors in the American Revolution. Miracles do not strike twice.

These new cultural problems we face are nothing that can’t be overcome with the political and cultural tools which we currently have. It’s reassuring for me to know, if only for your own young spirit’s sake, that the authoritarian government which you imagine would be temporary, but you must understand that there is no such thing. No authoritarian government willing cedes power. Ask yourself whether you might feel it more ennobling and worthy of your passions to seek after the brilliance and power of our resilient Western republic as it lives and breathes among us.

And so you propose this “eco-fascism”; I understand that it’s possible that some facet of German policy still attempted to care for its country’s ecology during the 1930s and 40s. But fascism is no good way to preserve the earth, much less govern humankind. It is anti-American to the core: we are a republic, explicitly founded to counter authoritarianism. We should be proud of this and work to make our tradition better in all ways, including protecting the good earth. Surely you can see what horrific suffering was brought upon the people of Europe and elsewhere during the nightmare of 20th century dictatorships. You must learn about these histories, and grieve that such horror ever came to pasd, and gravely lose your dangerously innocent proclivity to follow, starry-eyed, after absolutism. You must forswear temptation to oversimplified solutions which are known to end only in suffering. You must bravely commit yourself to fight every tyranny which would destroy human lives.

Capacity to Wonder

Where would the Abrahamic religions be without their precious conflicts? I say “precious” because all the Abrahamic religions have developed largely by thriving on conflict to such an insidious degree that they experience a crisis of purpose when not faced with some constant, huge moral drama of problems to suffer and fight against. Abrahamic believers can never let themselves be at peace with the life of the world’s profoundly normal and anciently functioning natural cycles of life and death. They must always look for some problem to throw themselves against, and when they do not find one, they invent one. They are bored with peace, because peace does not bring about their sick fantasy of armageddon. They have become so entwined with their need to fight everything that even the world itself has been sorrowfully vilified by their holy texts that resent the creaturely body and the ground itself. What a poverty of spirit when the whole living, physical world is decried as your resented enemy keeping you from some imaginary disembodied heaven, instead of your natural, creaturely, beloved eternal home.

To truly educate is to bring out what is already inside a person. A teacher may input information, but authentic education uses this imparting of information to draw out the animistic aliveness of the student in their capacity to wonder.

Photo by Noah Silliman on Unsplash

On Intelligence

The Webster dictionary definition really hits the nail on the head when it defines “Intelligence” as successfully learning through experience and adaptation. The naturalist in me respects how this brings learning back to it’s animal roots: intelligence stems from an ecosystem which demands keen awareness and sensitivity to one’s environment to survive and thrive. Our environment isn’t what it used to be, but our instinct to adaptive learning is now more crucial than ever. Though the contemporary of cognitively acquisition of knowledge through books and words (compared to skills learned physically, in immediate circumstances) has tremendous value, a return is needed to the experiential, physical, responsive learning of our instincts. This will be necessary to ameliorating many of the ills of our modern educational system.

In the discipline of “book-learning” is the elitist attitude of ridiculing “street-smarts” as a somehow lesser form of “smarts”. This experience-based learning is assumed to only be relevant to the roughest city streets of disenfranchised youths. It is not respected as a way of learning so essential for survival as complete humans. Comfortable Americans maintain this misunderstanding because this instinctual way of acquiring knowledge arises naturally in people who must remain aware of their immediate physical environment to survive, such as in inner-city neighborhoods, unlike the privileged who are accustomed to living in their heads (or tuned-out in their head-phones) all the time.

I want to acknowledge, however, that the stresses of living in embattled environments should not be romanticized. A hostile environment can compel those on the edge of survival to use their energy for more immediate demands, such as escaping a physical threat, thereby leaving less room for softer sensory awareness. Yet this can also, paradoxically, be a direct link into greater environmental sensitivity.

To grow up with intelligence and awareness, of any useful kind, is to come to terms with the world. To face adulthood is to leave the teenage time of endless battles and accept which struggles are worth your morning coffee. If I ever get the great honor and privilege of mentoring teenagers, I will try to put this understanding into their minds without overpowering them, but encouraging them to discover these truths. A good teacher or mentor is to lead them in reverence for the path, with wisdom to alarm them of unseen snakes in tall grass, as was the way of all ancestors for their young initiates. But a good teacher accepts that these young ones must necessarily be wounded –the old primal wound of the psyche coming to terms with the harsh and beautiful way of the world– to “die” to their childhoods. Elders must protect and defend the young while yet getting out of their way. The young people are to be put in charge for a change, which too many adults live in fear of acknowledging, and so put their children in trouble on the road ahead. But if the young are taught well, and learn intelligence by experiencing and witnessing the living, active wisdom of the old, we who are older should have nothing to fear when it comes time to hand them the wheel (the driving wheel, or the wheel of life!).