I reproduce this, with minor editing, as it came to me from my friends Upstairs on Thursday January 5, 2006. It’s long, so I will break it into two pieces.
(8:30 a.m.) All right friends, I’m ready and willing. Who do I have the honor of speaking to today? Or, if you have no one special, I’ll choose.
You may find it easier to continue your long practice of addressing us as a group unless you wish any one of us, and receiving our communications the same way. We appeared this way for a reason. And perhaps this is as good a time as any to go into it a bit.
The question of guidance from what you call “the other side” is not so much a complicated question as it is a tangled one. But we didn’t tangle it from over here! It got tangled because of the various competing or overlapping or antagonistic strands of culture on your end.
In the simplest situation, an isolated culture knows of no other ways of perceiving the world and has no competing ways within its own area and has no discordant tradition cutting against the prevailing ways. In such a society, all is consistency. As all think alike, believe alike, perceive alike – therefore it is not difficult for all to act alike. This is about as different from your time-space as can be.
The next level up in terms of a society is one in which any one of those elements is missing. The next up from that, a society with two missing. You see.
No neighbors with other ways.
No conflict between tradition and new ways.
No internal strife between competing elements each with its own traditions.
A society that is uniform within, and not conscious of any discord between its practice and that of its ancestors, may have neighbors with different ways. In such case, the neighbors are regarded either with a blend of indifference and tolerance or with active hostility. Thus, the ancient Romans before they became powerful. Thus, the ancient Greek city-states. Thus, the Hebrew tribes, and Indian tribes, and tribes everywhere. We do not mean to over-simplify, because of course these societies had gradations – Greek city-states viewed other Greek states differently than they did non-Greeks; Mohammad distinguished between pagans and People of a Book. But as a simple distinction this will hold.
When such a society conquers or for any reason absorbs another people the conquered must become a part of that society – they must have their own niche into which they can be smoothly fitted – or their very existence would shake that society. So, if the society has a niche for slaves, the newly entered may come in as slaves without disturbing anything – unless they maintain their identity in some way over and above being slaves. We suggest that here you will find the key to the function, plight and effect of the Jews as a people – especially when you compare them to “the Jews of Asia” – the Chinese communities within non-Chinese cultures.
Without meaning to, without wanting to, without any say in the matter whatsoever, by their very presence as an unassimilated body within the simple social order, they are destructive to its simplicity. They push that society into a new stage of complexity that it may or may not be able to successfully achieve and maintain.
A society that comes to terms with a minority in its midst is one that has gained an advantage in complexity to set against its disadvantage in loss of homogeneity. How each society deals with that new situation defines differences among them.
One way to deal with it is to find a way to graft that presence onto the prevailing story the society tells itself. Jews in a Christian society are precursors of Christ; in a Muslim society, they are one of three communities descended from Abraham; in a secular society (the west, regardless of nominal allegiances, since the 1800s) a disturbing anomaly interfering with (the myth of) coherent nationhood.
Do you see, now, why so many societies are insane when they attempt to deal with minorities? They purge, they discriminated, they murder, they exile – why? For economic reasons? Hardly! For religious reasons? Seemingly so, often, but not really. For ideology’s sake? Even less likely.
All this happens because the very presence of the minority stretches the culture, distorts it, makes it uncomfortable – seemingly endangers it. Thus, pogroms. Thus, mass murder.
Now add to the disturbing presence of external foreigners and internal foreigners that presence of a contradiction between present practice and tradition. The result is, for instance, 20th century America. This is far from the only example we might seek! But take it as an example and see if it does not well illustrate our point.
America had foreigners of all kinds within its fold, but it incorporated them into its myth by thinking of itself as the melting pot. It had foreigners of all kinds outside its fold, but there was no way the foreigners could threaten militarily or economically or culturally. So the first crack in the seamless façade was the culture war between those wanting to change to other values and those seeking to retain current nominal values. Each side could claim legitimate descent from the past because of America’s revolutionary tradition – a sort of historic oxymoron. So neither one could be shrugged off as alien. The result is deadly warfare.
By necessity this outline is too short, and glosses over many a complexity and many a difficulty. None the less, it holds, and offers you the key to your society’s problem.
The problem is not the removal of one or the other set of proponents. The problem is not the return to simplicity, for a return never happens.
Here is the problem to be solved: How to move from one layer of simplicity through layers of complexity to a new, more sophisticated, simplicity. This is the puzzle your society has before it. You may solve it, you may not.