Monday, February 11, 2013

Of frogs and kettles

We've all heard the 'frog in the kettle' story.  Frog in water.  Water heats slowly.  Frog doesn't realize water is getting hotter.  Frog sits there thinking all is right with the world.  Frog boils to death.  Lesson: beware subtle changes that lead to destruction.

Now, I receive this email from a reader that's had me thinking for a few days.  Here's most of it:
However, let me start with the term “accommodation.”  My fear that our country has been employing a “Leap Forward, Hop Back” strategy with most contemporary issues is illustrated perfectly in this health care debate.  The strategy is to make an absurd leap forward that is very difficult for a large portion of the population to swallow, and then to take a small hop back to “make up for it.”  The long term impact of this is the rapid accumulation of the forward motion and the acceptance of it by the American people under the guise that those in power have “compromised” by taking the small hop backwards.  What they forget is the the initial large step was no compromise in the first place.  It is worse than the old frog-in-boiling-water lesson.  You know the old wisdom: if you place a frog in boiling water it will jump out immediately, but if you place it in cool water and gradually increase the temperature, it will happily boil to death. 
While others have applied this old adage to the current debate, I think it is actually worse than what it seems.  The “leap forward, hop back” is even more devious than the gradual-temperature-increase.  Instead of slowly boiling the frog so that he doesn’t realize it, this strategy is like raising the heat on the frog rapidly and just before it gets to the point of jumping out, drawing the heat back a little.  In this way, the frog not only boils to death without complaint, but it actually periodically thanks you for those brief moments of cool relief that you so generously offered. 
I think this is also what is not being understood in some modern debates...I think people are starting to get wise to this trick and as such are growing less inclined to compromise.  Especially as often nowadays compromise defined above is of the "Well instead of getting everything I want and you getting nothing, I'll only get half of what I want (and you still get nothing)" variety.  Everyone is starting to realize the compromises are still leading us in the direction we don't want to go.
It's not always the fact that we don't recognize the water is getting warmer.  We do.  We just feel powerless to do anything about it.  So if you are a traditional oriented Christian American (hopefully in that order), or more specifically Catholic American (again, hopefully in that order), then it isn't hard to see that our nation is heading down paths that are incompatible with any Christian vision for a just and righteous society.

There is something to be said for a mentality that says we should be thankful for whatever table scraps are thrown our way.  That's the lesson of those who become beaten down, even if they don't realize it.  As much as we think we're bravely resisting the principalities and powers of this present darkness, are we?  Are we really resisting, or are we just happy to win the occasional battle, appealing to some soteriological triumph that excuses us for the lost wars as we travel this sod?

It makes you wonder.  I know that Mel Gibson's Braveheart is fodder for historians, as well it should be.  Though its take on history is seldom any worse than what I see coming out of our modern institutions of higher learning. Nonetheless, while stretching the historical facts, there are some good, meaningful themes worth considering.  One is that William Wallace must shake up the Scots in their resistance against the English throne.  In one of his many monologues  he actually tells them to stop being happy to scramble for whatever table scraps is thrown them.  They have a God given right to the full banquet feast.

Sometimes I think we have long since discarded any such talk of God given right to [fill in the blank].  We're content to await the coming eschaton and declare that to be our main priority.  Of course we should continue to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, and do such things   And we can resist forces that stand in our way to do such things.  But somewhere, it's as if we think we can lose one war entirely, or at least suffer setback after setback, and all will still be fine with the world.

Perhaps the willingness we have to accept table scraps thrown out way, to celebrate a step forward when we know there will be two backward steps accompany it, that demonstrates just how much fight has left us, and just how defeatist we've truly become. Maybe it is time to listen to the folks who say no more compromise, no more table scraps. Just a thought as I read through and pondered a new take on the old kettle.

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