There’s an old Georgia folktale called “The Parable of the Tar Baby.”
In short, the fox sets a trap for his nemesis, the rabbit, by making a fake baby out of tar and turpentine, slapping a bonnet on it, and setting it in the road.
The arrogant and ultra-sensitive rabbit comes along and, just as the fox knew he would, becomes offended when the tar baby refuses to return his morning greeting. When the tar baby refused further to respond to the rabbit’s rabid interrogation, the rabbit couldn’t take it. It threw a punch at the tar baby. And then another. And then a kick. And then another.
But the more the rabbit fought, it found, the more his limbs and fur got stuck to the tar baby until, finally, the rabbit couldn’t move. And, right on cue, the fox came in for the kill.
Sound familiar? It should.
It is America’s so-called “resistance” movement wrapped up with a bow. If you live in the United States, take a look out your window and see what flavor of outrage is en vogue this week.
Robert Anton Wilson, in his The Illuminatus! Trilogy, calls what you see out there the “tar baby syndrome” (TBS). To sum it up in a few words: You become stuck to what you attack.
And it gets pretty deep…
Tale of Two Changemakers
There’s a difference between being genuinely worried about a problem and using that problem to feel a sense of moral superiority over those who just don’t “get it.”
The first type of person — the genuinely worried — is almost always led by a genuine call to action. That type can’t help but do something to help remedy the problem, no matter how hopeless it may seem or small his or her contribution in the grand scheme.
They take action not for the Instagram hearts and Facebook likes, but because they are compelled to act. They understand the reality of the situation: If they don’t do something, it’s likely not to get done at all.
They criticize by creating.
The latter type — the moralizers — have no actual interest in fixing the problem. They wouldn’t even know where to begin. The problem itself isn’t even the problem to them.
Their interest is only epidermal.
All they need to know is ‘bad man did bad thing.’ And if they don’t scream at the top of their lungs about it, it might mean people might think they consent. (And what other people think is paramount.)
Make no mistake, the angst the moralizers feel is very real. But it has little to do with resolving injustice and more to do with the ancient terror of being outcasted from the tribe. Little is more terrifying to the moralizer than being stigmatized by their peers via one of today’s glaring red letters — racist, sexist, homophobic, xenophobic and on.
Without a deep or nuanced understanding of the problem, the moralizer takes a black-and-white perspective and criticizes by cutting down the perceived enemy at every chance. The path of least resistance is to attack others based on superficial characteristics or other inane generalities. So that is what is often done. And without knowing it, the moralizer has become what he or she apparently hates.
Lacking the awareness of reality necessary to effect positive change in the real world, the moralizer does the opposite. He helps to conjure up the monster of his nightmares. She makes real the ghosts, ghouls and Frankensteins. Zed rages against a machine that, like a Chinese finger trap, grows in strength in proportion to how much Zeddy tries to fight it.
The moralizer fights day and night in search of an enemy and becomes shocked… shocked… when, finally, one day, the formidable foe appears with a gas mask and a long stick of lumber.
Where the wild things are.
Few come to realize it’s only when you stop fighting and pull your fingers out do you find your hands free for other things.
In his book, Exit, Voice and Loyalty, Albert Hirschman proposed that when expression (voice) proves ineffective for changing an ineffective model, the next natural step is to depart from the model as much as you can and create a model superior to it (exit).
Superior models make far better counter-cultures than cardboard signs and screams. The former can sustain itself, the latter is often just another form of parasitism — from which the status quo feels little threat.
Italian novelist and philosopher Umberto Eco, in his book, Does Counter-culture Exist?, wrote:
“The dominant culture tolerates parasitic counter-cultures as more or less innocuous deviations, but it cannot accept critical manifestations which call it [the dominant culture] into question. Counter-culture comes about when those who transform the culture in which they live become critically conscious of what they are doing and elaborate a theory of their deviation from the dominant model, offering a model that is capable of sustaining itself.”
Bucky Fuller said it best: “You never change things by fighting the existing reality. To change things, build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete.”
Millions of hours have been put into the so-called “resistance” movement in the past few months.
How much of this energy has gone into alternative business models, permaculture projects or sustainable concepts?
Much of the energy of this “resistance” has been squandered, directing it at those things which the resisters do not want. And once the rocks are thrown, the bottles are busted and the trashcans are charred, there’s very little energy left to imagine (and act on) the future they do want.
If you want to find the people least likely to change the world, go to a protest. The wild things — that ingenuity which innovates problems out of existence — won’t be present.
The real world-changers will be nowhere to be found… they’re too busy with their heads down.
Doing the real Work.
Managing editor, Laissez Faire Today