Tikkun Magazine

The Stoker and the Plugger

Tsunamis and plugs

To plug a tsumani, no matter how metaphorical, we need all the tools in our kit. Credit: Creative Commons/Kupferstich "Deichbruch" von Winterstein 1661.

Today, a tsunami is gaining lethal force, promising to send giant waves over the top of a poorly constructed levy. One man is madly stoking the winds that give force to the storm. Another is putting his finger in a hole in the levy, as if to plug a leak. In the 2012 election we are asked to choose between these two men.

Obviously, neither man will stop the deadly tsunami. The position of both men is absurd. Does that mean we should not vote in the election? Fighting catastrophe with either of two absurd methods makes no sense.

But, paradoxically, we should vote for the plugger over the stoker.

The stoker will accelerate the catastrophe. Blinded by ideology and money, he will tear down the levy and raise the flood tides. Possibilities of reconstruction will fade. The conversation will shift to how to build arks to survive the lethal floods. The very rich will see salvation in this choice. And, favored by the stoker, in an act of true evil, they will block any action to dissipate the storm and rebuild the levy. Stopping the stoker is a matter of human survival.

The plugger will not prevent the catastrophe either. His finger in the dike is a symbolic act of resistance. Of course, it is irrational since it cannot stop a storm that is overflying the levy rather than pounding through leaks.

But symbolism matters, especially in moments of existential threat. The finger in the dike comes from the man at the top. His action is a subliminal invitation to generalized and more rational resistance from the bottom, a building of a new levy rather than the plugging of the old and useless one.

Resisters from the bottom are already surfacing. During the Occupy Movement at its height, they tented out all along the levy, calling for mass mobilization to rebuild the nation and world. Grassroots movements are the best hope for saving us from the tsunami.

In the Great Depression, a former plugger, President Franklin D. Roosevelt, told the people that he cannot stop the storm unless they forced him to do so. This tends to be the best that all men at the top have done in this land, and the plugger in 2012 may play this positive role for new waves of tenters.

Plugging the leak opens up prospects that the people will mobilize rapidly from below and rebuild the levy while quieting the floodwaters.

Stopping the tsunami requires every tool in our kit, even the choice of a timid and misguided plugger—whom we need to prod, push, and often militantly oppose—over the stoker.

(To read more Fall 2012 online exclusives on American Beyond the 2012 Election, click here.)

Charles Derber, professor of sociology at Boston College, is the author, among many books, of Greed to Green, Capitalism, and Sociopathic Society.
tags: Activism, Democracy, Politics & Society, US Politics