Brain Wars Ho!

I see brains and lips closed, tympans and temples unstruck, until that comes which has the quality to strike and unclose, until that comes which has the quality to bring forth what lies slumbering forever ready in all words. Walt Whitman.

I sallied forth last week onto this field of battle in the Brain Wars both quoting these words with approval and acknowledging that they are only partly true. Closed brains and unstruck tympans and temples we can indeed observe very commonly, unclosed and struck more rarely. As for unclosed lips, however, we see and hear no shortage of them. The problem persists not in the lips, but in the ears and the brains. Unfettered lips we enjoy in abundance.

I had two interesting encounters with brains this week. In fact I had several, but two are particularly notable. Both belonged to guests in my home. One was a relative on an overnight visit, and the other came for one of our Country Supper Storytelling Concerts. Both voiced political opinions on matters of urgent public concern. I liked their opinions, in both cases. One was a man in the property business, who by appearances would not have been out of place at the board table of any chamber of commerce in any small urban centre. The other also looked like what she is: a scientist and academic with respectable credentials and a tireless advocate for the causes of Nature. One conversed with an unclosed brain, the other with a closed brain. I leave it to your imagination to guess which was which, and also to judge which is likely to be more effective in the brain wars.

Beware of stereotypes. The dark forces in the brain wars rely on them.

As I look out over the field of battle, I see four armies, all strenuously vociferating their causes in single-minded preoccupation and with a huge diversity of rhetorical method and sophistication of argument. “Me-Me!”, screams one. “Us-Us!” roars another. “Them-Them! thunders the third. “Her-Her!” howls the fourth, referring to Nature. The noise is stupendous. To and fro the tide of battle rages, spreading alarm and devastation on all sides and solving nothing, in fact, simply creating more battlefields.

But what is this little band of earnest souls huddled ill-armed amidst the tumult, waving its pallid banner, the lettering worn by the ages but still clearly legible? “ALL OF THE ABOVE!” it says. How feeble, yet how magnificent!

The brain wars will be won when all four armies are victorious in the achievement of an unending negotiation, using methods that we know very well but are reluctant to trust. The battle to be fought first, therefore, is not against the armies that we don’t like, but against the reluctance.

Reluctance: the struggle against ourselves. The strategic front line in the Brain Wars: the struggle against the struggle against ourselves. Whoa! There’s a challenge, worthy of any mettle.

To arms, my friends!


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