Posted by: janineplusbrianequals | November 11, 2009

imaginary book – “Ethical Rebellion”

Ethical Rebellion

(When to Light the Torches)

This is the working title of my next book. It is inspired by extensive historical research and the last 14 years I spent as a war correspondent in the Congo.

The reality is that I often wonder about rebellion. When does it become appropriate? When does it become imperative? What extent of rebellion is called for? What means are acceptable to use in rebellion?

These are questions I regularly wonder about. In my experience, rebels without cause are far more rare than causes without rebels. It seems to me that any tyranny or inappropriate dominance and control presents a possible case for rebellion. I don’t simply mean state governments. I mean all cases at all level of our lives.

  • The passing comment made in a group which dismisses a person or their ideas.
  • Advertising or spin which uses lies to gain control over the consumer’s mind.
  • A charismatic or persuasive personality who leads a flock to serve his purposes.
  • An organized group which forcibly extracts wealth from a certain set of 300 million people which it uses, in part, to destroy and manipulate foreign nations.

In short, any place in which evil has established itself in some form, resistance to it can be called a rebellion. It is a rejection of a given status quo.

My imaginary book will deal with at least two major themes – and possibly a third one for fun.

A) Since rebellion is a rejection of established order it necessarily brings with it an element of disorder or chaos. We need to explore the nature of order and chaos. Inherently, orderly things are heavenly and disorderly one’s are hellish. Thus the tool of rebellion and the resulting chaos have something of hell in them. To enter rebellion with integrity, one must have a clear grasp of these issues and also be able to identify criteria which make rebellion the superior choice.

B) Closely related to the first issue but far more important is the effort to understand the rebel. If ethical rebellion is possible, it is likely one of the most difficult endeavors. Since rebellion deposes an existing order, it automatically presents itself as the new order. The immediate and dire danger is that one will simply replace the old tyrant with oneself. Avoiding this danger requires self discipline – cultivating this discipline is far more difficult than successfully deposing a tyrant. Fight “the man” from the same love of dominion which we ostensibly fight and our rebellion will contain the seeds of the next tyranny. If love of dominion rules within, we will have no success in defeating it without. I think a good place to begin is Conjugial Love 365 by Emanuel Swedenborg which teaches about the difference between how good and evil loves fight.

C) “Strategies for winning” will be the bonus, third section of the book. Rebellions are a specific subcategory of conflict and hence must have special strategies which make them most successful. Why not aim to win?

I have to end with the tag line of “Tu Ne Cede Malis sed contra audentior ito” (Do not yield to evil but proceed ever more boldly against it).




  1. As perfectly iconic as his silhouette may be I decided not to include a picture of Che.

  2. A good choice… I figure Mr Guevara has been sufficiently exploited.

  3. “Inherently, orderly things are heavenly and disorderly one’s are hellish.”

    It seems to me that you are defining orderly such that this is true… One can imagine some sort of “systematic evil” that by most definitions, would be considered to have a high level of order to it. Dictatorships or “institutional racism” come to mind… In the latter, for example, there is an established way of doing things that systematically neglects or ostracizes a group of people — perhaps even inadvertently — in which case it seems that the “order” is the problem.

    I think order often serves to make people comfortable, and thus, for better or worse, order will “spontaneously” form whenever you have a collection of people interacting. So for me, order is largely a neutral concept (only “largely” because I think that when categorizing systems, all the ones with negative outliers — like a system where a terrorist has a nuclear warhead — end up falling into the “disordered” category, while the ones with positive outliers — the extreme altruist — can still fall within the category of “orderly”).

    But I guess this is just semantics, since clearly you are not advocating “rebelling” against a “heavenly” system. I think one of the most interesting “evils” is “inattentiveness” or “lack of self-honesty,” which is not evil in itself, but I would argue is what makes evil outcomes possible…and I think that this sort of inattentiveness is something that often arises out of the comfort of order…so that is my main reason for this post! I view “order” like “strategy” it can be great, or it can be terrible, depending on what the goals are and how effectively it is established. In short, I mostly agree, but I think it is dangerous to generalize order as being good.

  4. Jonathan,
    excellent comment. I was wondering if someone would call me on my assertion. I started writing a reply comment but I think instead I will make a post about it. Perhaps it will be chapter 1 of the book.

  5. I do not like rebellion outside the system. I like rebellion inside the system. Some of the most profound changes take place when people try to change the system from within. To pick the ultimate example: Jesus was a practising Jew and encouraged people to follow the Jewish system (see Matthew 23:1-3), and He was fundamentally changing the system.

  6. Some support for Jonathan’s point: Evil can work in an “orderly way” and cooperate to accomplish a common goal.

    Joel 2
    1 Blow the trumpet in Zion,
    And sound an alarm in My holy mountain!
    Let all the inhabitants of the land tremble;
    For the day of the LORD is coming,
    For it is at hand:
    2 A day of darkness and gloominess,
    A day of clouds and thick darkness,
    Like the morning clouds spread over the mountains.
    A people come, great and strong,
    The like of whom has never been;
    Nor will there ever be any such after them,
    Even for many successive generations.
    3 A fire devours before them,
    And behind them a flame burns;
    The land is like the Garden of Eden before them,
    And behind them a desolate wilderness;
    Surely nothing shall escape them.
    4 Their appearance is like the appearance of horses;
    And like swift steeds, so they run.
    5 With a noise like chariots
    Over mountaintops they leap,
    Like the noise of a flaming fire that devours the stubble,
    Like a strong people set in battle array.
    6 Before them the people writhe in pain;
    All faces are drained of color.
    7 They run like mighty men,
    They climb the wall like men of war;
    Every one marches in formation,
    And they do not break ranks.
    8 They do not push one another;
    Every one marches in his own column.
    Though they lunge between the weapons,
    They are not cut down.
    9 They run to and fro in the city,
    They run on the wall;
    They climb into the houses,
    They enter at the windows like a thief.
    10 The earth quakes before them,
    The heavens tremble;
    The sun and moon grow dark,
    And the stars diminish their brightness.

  7. On rebellion.
    I think a useful model could be personal growth or regeneration; we need an overthrow of an evil ruling power in favor of a benevolent new Ruler.

    But this process does not happen over night. Specific negative elements are removed and replaced with good ones.

    Or alternatively, specific elements defect to the new Ruler while still maintaing ties to the old until all that can be saved is transfered to the new Kingdom.

  8. I think the term “chaos” needs more attention as well. “Chaos” is often mistakenly substituted for “randomness,” but in fact describes deterministic systems that only *appear* to be random because of the exponential nature of how initial conditions affect outcomes.


    I think this is an important discussion, because we all have goals and will act to achieve them, and the interplay between our actions will certainly yield quite a variety of outcomes (chaos). But that chaos is the product of a whole lot of intention, as opposed to a randomized outcome which could much more comfortably be labeled ‘undesirable’ since it was not the product of intention.

    Chaotic outcomes are a reality… sometimes our individual visions cancel each other out and just one tree in the forest burns. Other times they work in harmony and affect others, and the whole forest burns.

  9. Thanks for the comments. I have certainly not addressed them all in my follow up post. I just think choosing when to stick in our oar and resist the current is endlessly fascinating…so I really appreciate your perspectives.

  10. Jonathan:
    I think the “good/evil” labels are applied for fun to most issues in the world of nature but become more meaningful when applied to the world of humans. I fully realize that evil is often achieved through brilliantly order means. My purpose in insisting that the order (and “goodness”) of the means even when used by the evil should be recognized. Otherwise, we may assume that toppling Saddam Hussein’s regimewill necessarily be an improvement simply because we consider him to be a force of “evil”.
    (and, just because something uses and involves order does not mean that it escapes consideration for rebellion).

    To you other point about the “evil” of an unexamined life:

    This seems important to me and can be considered using the frame of rebellion and order. Your existing, unexamined self-concept has an order and structure to it which is serving you psychologically in some way. But, to the extent that it is flawed and incomplete, you must consider when to rebel against it and broaden your thinking.
    However, in the same way as societies rely on order, so do our psyche’s. People have ellaborate self-deception mechanisms to keep themselves from loosing a way of thinking. Though growth is the goal in the long run, this mental protection that people engage in does serve important purposes in keeping the person able to function.


  11. Thor,

    Thanks for the thoughts on chaos. I don’t really know anything about chaos-theory.

    But I suppose I believe that the appearance of chaos and disorder is very real and important for us to grapple with and understand. But on the other hand, I don’t think that anything is really ever allowed to be in complete, actual chaos. In New Church lingo, nothing is allowed to exist which does not perform some use. In other words, everything is fit together into meaningful patterns and outcomes – most of which are well beyond our scope.

    What does this mean for us when things appear to be in chaos or order?

  12. Nathan and Derrick in different ways both mentioned a gradual shift in which a first paradigm is not completely distroyed in order for the new to be installed.

    Nathan spoke about elements from the older paradigm defecting to the new (and presumably re-ordering themselves in the process).

    I like this. It invokes bending rather than breaking. And it also suggest the actual process of things. Even when something dies (like a zebra) it is not destroyed but rather re-incorporated into the system.

    Isaiah 42.3

    Spiritual Experiences 2012 by Emanuel Swedenborg

    But when is rebellion called for? Jesus did seem to be very affirming of the Jewish church (if not its leaders). He said that He “came not to destroy the law but to fulfill it”. (Matt 5.17) (or perhaps infill it).

    To be clear, I do suggest that rebellion is inherently related to hell – and that is why it must be entered into with extreme caution. I do suspect that it is sometimes necessary.

    Jesus also talked about coming to bring a sword rather than peace (Matt 10.34). And he instructed us not to put new wine in an old wineskin (Luke 5.38).

    Well – these are certainly issues that will be thoroughly and brilliantly addressed in Ethical Rebellion. (If you’d like to pre-order just send $47.50 to my agent). I’ll probably starting writing once 2000 copies are sold.


  13. Hio!! I was just going to write you an email to get your take on something, and this post was right on cue for what I was going to ask you about.

    Well done.

    As for your book: I want to be a reader if you actually write it. Send me chapters and I’ll give you feedback. Also, I like Jonathan’s point about the fact that order can be good or bad. But I believe order is simple: 1. God, 2. human race, 3. country, community, family 3. self, 4. world.

    I might have that mixed up to some extent, but my point is that any usable concept of order refers to our properly prioritized affection for the above things.

    In that sense, dictatorships or institutionalized racism, or a domineering spouse, may all be forms of external order (if order means clear hierarchy) but they probably represent some internal chaos (affections out of order).

    I think the topic of “when and how do we rebel” is very appropriate for the (I think slightly reckless) populist fervor going on within the GC right now.

    Hope you and Janine are doing great! HAPPY THANKSGIVING!

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