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Do You Want To Be A Proton Or An Electron?

René Magritte. The Pleasure Principle, etc.
(René Magritte. The Pleasure Principle, etc. Source)

1) Introduction

Isn't that a silly question? A proton is a proton, so what is this all about? And why talk about this in the Politics section of this web site?

Patience. We are going to try to probe what "politics" is all about, essentially.

2) Politics is a human activity

It's a stunning mystery and an obvious platitude that Politics is a human activity. An obvious platitude because we all know men are endowed with free-will, as opposed to protons and electrons who are just what they are, and nothing else. A proton can't get up in the morning and decide: "Hey, I feel like being an electron today!", and actually become an electron. But a man who has been a saint all his life, who is a living example of Charity, Justice and Piety, can really get up in the morning and decide to become a very bad person. And vice-versa, of course.

In the material world, protons are positive and electrons are negative, and never the other way around. It is a stunning mystery that in the spiritual world, the most positive particle (the saint) and the most negative particle (the criminal) can change from one to the other, or to anything in between, anytime. The very nature of Politics hinges on this.

3) Why is Politics so hard?

First, a silly anecdote. About twenty years ago, the Canadian Army had a "webbing" that was based on Velcro (TM) technology. Basically, a "webbing" is a bunch of straps worn by an infantryman and to which are attached his equipment (like the water bottle, ammunition, compass, bayonet, etc.). When in full battle-dress, we looked a lot like Christmas trees (except all the decorations were as green as the tree itself).

The funny part was that Velcro (TM) is not designed to sustain large shear stresses, such as those incurred in multi-g sub-hertzian frequency harmonic vibrations. In other words, as soon as you started running, parts started flying off! Twenty years later, I still laugh at the memory of soldiers running a few steps, stopping, returning to pick up some piece of equipment (convieniently camouflaged so you couldn't easily find it in the tall grass), then running again a bit further, stopping, coming back, etc. (OK, I admit I did NOT find it funny at the time. Also, we solved the problem with duck tape.)

The reason I'm telling this anecdote is that twenty years later, I feel like it's déjà vu all over again. This time, the soldier who's going to war is Jesus Christ. I try to "attach" to Christ as many brave Catholics as possible. Except many of these persons have a tendency to detach themselves from Christ and to "fly off". If you could listen to my phone conversations and read my e-mail inbox and outbox, you would see that:

- precious few people are Catholics;
- precious few Catholics are brave;
- the few brave Catholics I've found often have a tendency to "fly off".

This is a political article, so I'm presenting this as pure sociological data, not because it deals with religion. From a sociological point of view, the Church is an institution. Sociology teaches us that one of the roles of Politics is to somehow "shape" men into groups of people who act coherently and intelligently in order to attain some goal.

Assembling a group of people and getting them to all work together has to be one of the most difficult things I've ever attempted to do. Based on what I know, this difficulty is intrinsic to political action. Whether you are trying to start up some kind of musical band, or a car pool, or trying to assemble a few people to go put up some signs for the upcoming municipal election, it is simply amazing just how difficult that can be. Whatever the goal, whatever the purpose of the group, most people are constantly on the verge of "flying off".

Assuming the group is a good group, trying to forward some noble cause, we can try to classify the various ways people tend to "fly off":

3.1) Plain old misunderstanding. Some troopers initially misunderstand what "the cause" is exactly, so when they realize the group exists in order to accomplish something they don't agree with, they leave.

3.2) Prudential disagreement. Some troopers, although they agree with "the cause", disagree with the means that are being used to pursue that goal. Such disagreements often lead to a multiplication of groups all trying to do the same thing (an example is the Pro-life movement in Canada).

3.3) Concupiscence mismatch. Some troopers join apparently because "the cause" is noble, but in fact they are just after some personal advantage (sex, money, fame, etc.). When they realize their concupiscence won't be satisfied, they leave.

3.4) Timidity. Some troopers agree with the goal and the means, and sincerely want to participate, but are "scared away" by the pain of effort, or of other people's opinions, or physical intimidation, etc.

3.5) "Honest" disasters. A trooper can die, or have to quit because of health problems, or family problems, etc.

3.6) Wolves in the sheepfold. Some "troopers" can actually be totally opposed to the goal of the group, and be there just to sabotage things from the inside.

3.7) Protons who become electrons. Don't forget that all of these ways of "flying off" can at any moment appear, or disappear, or combine, or morph into each other, and so on.

Etc., etc.

This list is, in some form or another, the bedtime reading and the nightmare material of all politicians. In a way, Politics can be defined as the quest for a spiritual equivalent of "duck tape", so we can prevent people from "flying off".

4) Leaders, Resolutions, Virtue

Somebody once said that: "With all I know, you could write a book, but with all I don't know, you'd have a whole library!"

In a way, this sums up what this section of this article should contain. I know very little about the nature of the "spiritual duck tape" which is necessary to prevent people from "flying off". And what little I do know already fills a whole web site!

To summarize, the "spiritual duck tape" is composed (at least) of leadership, resolutions and virtue.

I'm still looking for the best books in the world on leadership. Currently, two I've found are called "L'école des chefs" and "L'art d'être chef" (and are unfortunately only in French for now).

Resolutions are what we use to make ourselves into "spiritual protons or electrons". In a way, because of our free-will, nothing and nobody (not even God!) can decide what we are going to be. On the other hand, our free-will is not absolute, since we are partly material beings (and not wholly spiritual). This is why we can be influenced by our physical and social environment.

Virtue, in a way, is a way of "solidifying" our resolutions. Once you've acquired a virtue, for example the virtue of getting up early in the morning, it becomes pleasant and easy to get up early. Virtues never remove our free-will, our human fraility (what theologians call the effects of Original Sin) or the unfortunate long-term effects of vices we used to have (for example, acquiring the virtue of temperance won't cure your liver disease if you used to be an alcoholic). But virtues do help, and all good politicians spend the better parts of their careers trying to make the citizens more virtuous and less vicious (whether they use those words or not).

5) Conclusion

A few years ago when I started this web site, I was quite upset at the Pope and the Bishops, because they seemed so hopelessly ineffective. I still think we have some bad religious leaders in the Province of Quebec, and that we need a good and joyful inquisition. That being said, I do have more respect for the extreme difficulty of leading a group of men. This humbling experience also applies to my opinions concerning secular politicians in the Province of Quebec and Canada.

With protons becoming electrons and neutrons and back to protons again, and all these particles constantly whizzing around instead of staying put where they are supposed to be, I'm starting to think that any Pope (or Prime Minister, or President, etc.) who avoids a total nervous breakdown after three weeks in office is a really good Pope!

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