Sunday, June 12, 2005

The Word For the Week

Romans 5:1-8

It's been an interesting couple of weeks over at Daily Kos. For what it's worth at this late date, I have no real position on the pie fights. I thought everybody had good points, and I think those points got overplayed on all sides.

It's the nature of an open-source community: the strength is being open to many perspectives, many contributions from many different sources. The downfall is that that same openness means that it's hard to put the brakes on a destructive cycle of argument. It just grows and grows until it burns itself out. Call it the "wildfire principle" if you will.

As many people have pointed out, the place has been through these meshugas before. I wasn't around but for the very tail-end of the Kerry vs. Dean vs. Nader vs. everybody fights, but I understand they got pretty bad. There were the Shut Your Fucking Piehole diaries, the rolling recriminations after the November elections, Schiavo, NARAL, the Pope, the Pastor Dan diaries.

I'm not very interested in rehashing any of these debates. Most of them were silly, and needless.

Needless, that is, in the sense that they got misdirected into personal territory. Once the insults--real or perceived--start flying, the useful discussion comes to an end. The underlying perspectives were often valid, and I for one learned much from them.

It's also true that conflict is a normal part of life together. People build up friction whenever they rub elbows; it happens in virtual communities just like in meatspace. When the friction goes away, you've got real problems, because it means that people have stopped taking one another seriously, stopped talking to one another.

In this sense, then, the opposite of conflict is not so much peace (the absence of conflict), as it is reconciliation, a productive balance that allows the creative sparks to fly all over again.

As Paul notes in his letter to the Romans, reconciliation is something hard-won:

...We also boast in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us...

For Paul, of course, the process of reconciliation begins and ends in Christ's atoning sacrifice on the cross. It's that sacrifice that reconciles us with God the Father, and that allows us to be reconciled one to another.

But you need not be a Christian to find the insight here. Follow the chain in slightly different terms: we can be proud of the conflicts we've been through, because conflict makes us stronger, and that strength forges a common identity, and the common identity enables us to believe that we are doing will make a difference in the long run. And that will indeed not disappoint us, because we are making a difference, if only in how we are changing ourselves.

It works for the grizzled veterans who stick with the community: Well, I was here when we went after one another tooth-and-nail over Ginger and Maryann, and here's what we learned... But interestingly enough, it also works for the folks who have left. Many of them have ended up together in new communities (this time, at Booman Tribune or Women Kossacks), and their departure is suffering enough to create a common identity.

Can the various parties be reconciled to one another? I don't know. It might take some kind of divine intervention. The online communities I've taken part in have a tendency to attract strong personalities with stronger opinions.

We'll see.

But here's something that I hope all sides can take away from this. It's the end of Paul's chain of logic: "hope does not disappoint us, because God's love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that was given to us."

I'll leave it up to you to decide if it's necessary to have the Holy Spirit to receive God's love. My point is simply this: that hope doesn't arrive from hurt and anger and conflict. Not by themselves.

Instead, it comes about by the way in which those things remind us of the attachments that motivate us, and lead us to new ones. If the Pie Fights lead us to understand better who and what we love, and why we fight for them, if the conflicts and the crazy-making we go through widen the circle of our compassion, then as idiotic as they may seem, they will have been worthwhile.

Amen, and pass the lemon meringue.

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