conservatives, madness and flood
by DICK DORWORTH
in the midst of a flood of biblical proportions. I see everybody holding
on in their individual way to an orange crate, to a piece of wood, and we’re
passing each other in this swollen river that has pretty well taken down
all the landmarks, and overturned everything we’ve got. And people
insist, under the circumstances, on describing themselves as ‘liberal’
or ‘conservative.’ It seems to me completely mad."
as a flood of biblical proportions, is not a bad metaphor.
extent that each of us truly lives only in this present instant, not
tomorrow or yesterday, holding on as best we are able, can each of us
appreciate the poet/minstrel Cohen’s insight.
familiar landmarks (not just the World Trade Center) have been taken down
and overturned. Survivors hang on to the debris of yesterday’s
structures. The lie that we are all not in the same river is far more
difficult to maintain.
orange crates are more elaborate and tawdry than others does not remove
them from the flood, which is, after all, impassively egalitarian—neither
liberal, conservative, Christian, Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist, Jew, Native
American, white, black, brown, red, yellow, rich, poor, intelligent, dumb,
healthy, sick, happy, sad, reverent nor cynical—overturning everything
without regard to political nuance or social refinement, skin color or
It is worth
floating the idea that compassion, kindness and generosity give a better
grip on a flimsy piece of wood than do murderous aggression and narrow
selfishness on the sturdiest orange crate. A kind grip rather than a
clenched fist gives more freedom to contemplate the origin of floods.
Ultimately, all wood loses buoyancy and sinks. Floods, like war, once set
loose are uncontrollable and chaotic. Contemplating their cause has the
possibility to serve the needs of man and allow him to take the high
ground. Because floods—like avalanches, tides, winds and war—tend to
flow in recurring patterns in the same locations, it is neither necessary
nor particularly smart to be caught up in the same flood twice.
swims in the same flood twice, thrice, four times and then again. America
didn’t learn from France’s debacle in Vietnam, and now it has followed
Russia and England into Afghanistan.
that be? Is madness preventing man from being who he truly is? The
ultimate tragedy is to not be who we are.
There is a
deep part of modern man connected to its ancient time of tribal survival.
Its longing for kinship is the primal recognition of each individual’s
limited powers in the struggle to stay afloat. Each human seeks security,
identity and connection to others. Thus, the kinship of hermits, loners
and solitary spiritual seekers. Thus the kinship of zealots, religious
fundamentalists, suicidal terrorists and militias. Thus the racist, the
sexist, the bigot and the super patriot whose pride in country renders him
To be a
"liberal," to be a "conservative," to be a nationalist
of any country, to be a member of Earth First!, the Ku Klux Klan, the
Rainbow Family, of any church, or a follower of any number of other
ideologies, is to participate in an identity that defines a particular way
to experience life. Definition is comforting. It can make you feel like
you know what’s what and where and, if you’re particularly filled with
hubris, why. It can make you think you know who you are.
definition is also as limiting as living in the world while looking at
life through a long tube. I would argue that there is nothing discernibly
right with the Ku Klux Klan, that its members are profoundly ignorant, its
malignant ideas a travesty and prison of thought, while nothing is
intrinsically wrong with membership in the other groups mentioned.
would argue, does membership in any particular group give a better grip on
the floating orange crates or pieces of wood. Being liberal or
conservative, is not the consequence of an all-encompassing worldview so
much as accepting reality as the view through the tube.
If the cost
of membership in any group is individual or collective sanity/integrity,
then it is a bad bargain. A working definition of madness is not being who
In 1998 a
general in the army of Pakistan, (America’s new ally until it is no
longer useful and is discarded, as was the Taliban and the rest of
Afghanistan) thought of an unrivaled strategy for defeating India in its
interminable war over Kashmir: detonating a nuclear bomb deep within one
of Kashmir’s high mountain glaciers, creating a flood of Biblical
proportions that would drown the Army and people of India in the plains
general’s patriotic view of reality, such a brutal, deranged idea makes
perfect military sense. His tubular comprehension of the consequences to
his own nation is equally grotesque. India, the second most populous
country on earth, has nuclear weaponry. India’s retaliation for a
nuclear flood can only be imagined.
tainted irony that such an idea arises in the very land where the concept
of karma, the universal law of cause and effect, was first incorporated
into the fabric of Hindu and Buddhist societies. One need not subscribe to
a belief in karma to appreciate its inherent wisdom. The Golden Rule and
the admonition that "Ye reap as ye sow" are similar enough to be
used here. None are only moral and ethical admonishments; they are also
practical, objective observations.
Pakistani general’s idea and the certain response by India points to the
source of the flood to which Cohen referred. Fortunately, the crazed
General’s plan has not been used, though it could be. As metaphor in
headlines (Modern man unleashes biblical flood with atomic bomb), it could
not be better. The more we learn about ourselves and the rest of the
natural world, the more clear becomes the danger of separating liberals
and conservatives, Muslims and Hindus, Africans and Norwegians, rich and
poor, man and nature. We are all in the same flood.
we will get out of the flood together, lower the flood waters altogether,
or, quite possibly (probably?), drown, all together.