Jefferson Bethke, Occupy Wallstreet, Nietzsche, and Dorothy Day
A great op-ed ran in the New York Times on Thursday, entitled “How to Fight the Man,” by David Brooks.
In it, Brooks basically argues that Jefferson Bethke (famous for the “Why I Hate Religion but Love Jesus video that I commented on here and here), while acting properly and realizing that he was rather short-sighted in the video, is an example of many “revolt” movements of our day, including the Occupy movement and others. The lack of proper grounding and the inability to come up with a system to replace the system that one is revolting against is leading to the downfall of many young revolutionaries today.
My own theory revolves around a single bad idea. For generations people have been told: Think for yourself; come up with your own independent worldview. Unless your name is Nietzsche, that’s probably a bad idea. Very few people have the genius or time to come up with a comprehensive and rigorous worldview.
This statement is interesting. I first balked at it because it seemed as though Brooks was challenging “free thinking.” He is not, however, and I agree that we cannot foster individual worldviews for each person. That, while being very postmodern, is simply wrong. We all live within a community framework, whether we admit it or not, and complete individualism would be chaos.
If I could offer advice to a young rebel, it would be to rummage the past for a body of thought that helps you understand and address the shortcomings you see. Give yourself a label. If your college hasn’t provided you with a good knowledge of countercultural viewpoints — ranging from Thoreau to Maritain — then your college has failed you and you should try to remedy that ignorance.
Here is some good advice that should be taken with a grain of salt. Don’t just pick a worldview at random from the past (that is why I have encountered an extremely misguided group of teens trying to re-embrace the Greek pantheon when they got sick of hypocrisy in the church), but instead seek out, read, and learn from a teacher or group that embraces what you think is a righteous life. Test this worldview against what you know is true and right, and only then accept it as a possible replacement for whatever you are revolting against.
He leaves this example of how other groups have embraced worldviews:
The old leftists had dialectical materialism and the Marxist view of history. Libertarians have Hayek and von Mises. Various spiritual movements have drawn from Transcendentalism, Stoicism, Gnosticism, Thomism, Augustine, Tolstoy, or the Catholic social teaching that inspired Dorothy Day.
I do not agree with all of these movements and worldviews, but the point is that these people drew from other pools of thought instead of trying to reinvent the wheel, as Bethke mistakenly has done. Luckily, Bethke realized this and has moved on. But will the next group of revolutionaries be ready to replace whatever they are revolting against? We have seen what happens when the Egyptians kick out the leadership but have nothing to put in its place – military might steps in and resumes the heavy-handed role of Mubarak. Occupy protestors challenge the primacy of capitalism, but have nothing to replace it with other than anarchy and communism, both proven to be worse than capitalism.
Let us do our research before we start our revolution!