A type of simple harmony develops in a group as long as the members tolerate a certain level of deception. Like the princess and the pea, however, humanity as a whole cannot rest in the peace of this simple harmony because the falsity of its comfort will always be felt, no matter how many mattresses are added. Examples of simple harmonies can be seen in the family that enjoys mutual love and respect only when the lie is upheld as truth, or the church that experiences growth only if those questions are not asked, or the city that finally sees prosperity only as long as no one follows the money.
The hidden nature of the obstacle to greater harmony is a common theme in many fairytales, myths, and religions. During the celebration of Passover there is a tradition where the family clears their home of any yeast or bread which contains a leavening agent. In this ritual leaven symbolizes haughtiness or pride and the rising of bread represents a person’s arrogance. There is also a time, however, when a piece of Chametz (leavened bread) is hidden somewhere in the house and the children of the family search for it. When it’s found it is burnt.
The fundamental difference between the Chametz from the Jewish Seder and the pea from the Hans Christian Andersen fairytale is that at the end of the Princess and the Pea the pea is placed in a museum. The obstacle is memorialized as the object that revealed the virtue in the princess. The shift from finding and destroying the obstacle to finding and memorializing the obstacle reaches its historical climax in the symbolism of the cross. The cross should serve as an image and constant reminder that systems built to protect simple harmonies always require the suffering of the innocent.
Tragically, all throughout history there have been people who would rather burn the children than find the bread, or imprison the princess rather than allow her to rule over them. They fear the chaos that will inevitably fill the void when the simple harmony is undone, and for good reason. Removing obstacles to progress can result in revolutionary change, and we’re often scandalized by the brutal violence that follows revolutionary movements. In light of this, we must keep in mind that the violence required to maintain the system is always greater than the violence of the revolution, it’s just easier to hide.
The spectacle of the revolutionary terror in France, with its market square beheadings was extremely violent, but those public displays did not come anywhere near the levels of violence perpetrated by the monarchy for centuries. As a nation we’re at the point where large systemic changes have to be made or the violence will only escalate. Right now systemic gatekeepers are condemning the violence of revolutionary movements despite the fact that they have perpetrated far worse acts of violence or sat silently as they witnessed the perpetration of violence.
So far the system has allowed some change in isolated systems like churches and corporations reacting to sexual abuse scandals and law enforcement agencies reacting to excessive force complaints and lawsuits. The real danger, however, lies in whether these tokenized changes in isolated systems are held up as sufficient by those in power. To be clear, the changes that have already occurred are victories and they are important, but they are far from sufficient. Our hope lies in whether or not disenfranchised members of disparate groups can join together in demanding the truly revolutionary changes that must take place in order to avoid the horrific violence that will inevitably follow if things remain the same.
This reality again highlights why everyone can see the problems with divisive politics, sensationalized media, and crony capitalism yet we’re seemingly impotent when it comes to changing them. Every stakeholder in every community, including several leaders in movements for change, is aware that to recognize the deeper issues and truly commit to resolving them collaboratively will require some form of acceptance and confession of their own complicity. This is the process that must take place in order to fulfill the ancient truth described by Plato when he said that, “the collective strength of the weak will always be greater than the isolated power of the rulers.”
To give a more concrete example to this very abstract situation, my hometown is currently experiencing a wave of new construction and development. This gives the impression that the city is prospering, but it’s the same politicians, construction companies, and private interest groups that are benefiting and not the city as a whole. At the same time there are separate groups working for reform in several areas like criminal justice and education. If these groups find a way to collaborate they could bring major changes to the underlying systems creating the various forms of injustice and inequality.