I listened to an Art of Manliness podcast, entitled ‘On Grand Strategy’; Now usually I would hold off on audio messages longer than half an hour, but the text description on this particular piece was too good for me to resist.
Brett McKay started it off by stating a line by an ancient Greek poet, Archilochus – “A fox knows many things but a hedgehog knows one important thing”
That right there gave me the intellectual equivalent of a boner. I mean, that sort of simplification amuses me. I identified with the hedgehog, who knew what to know, and I assumed that this was a trait superior in a world full of know-it-alls.
Or, that’s what I thought foxes were. John Lewis Gaddis, the author of On Grand Strategy, clarified that the approach of the fox is more for immediate actions, while the thinking of the hedgehog was critical in long-term plans and decisions. What’s more, Mr. Gaddis elaborates that one is not superior over the other: That there was no master strategy common for any human being to approach, only to know that there are times when it matters to know what to do around you immediately, and there are times when you would need to, say, take a step back and have a look at the bigger picture.
Now I’m going to read that book, but the way I see it, we would do well to go out into the world and take in and address every immediate detail, leaving no stone uncovered. On the other hand, we must never forget to either return to our original point of reference or to go back to our foundations… lest we plateau.
Imagine trees. I believe trees don’t grow quite as tall as their roots grow deep. We’re so focused on progression that we fail to understand that there will be times that it’s not an opportunity but a necessity for us to take a step back to go two steps forward.
Now, imagine that you’re climbing to the top of Mount Everest. Wouldn’t there be more than one base camp? Imagine going back to the start each and every time! Here we see that sometimes, our foundations must move up as we move up.
We can’t progress by focusing solely on immediate battles or having our eyes on the just overall war. No, an effective strategy has to be a mix of both.
This, to my understanding, was the state of religion in the Old Testament. In a nutshell, the people of Israel would go about their own way, observing the Law on a daily basis, doing their business and prospering and/or failing. However, every year, also according to the Law, they would take time to (1) remember how God freed them from the Egyptians, and, more importantly, (2) to offer an unblemished sacrifice to serve as cleansing for their sins. In other words, for most of a given year, they would address immediate needs and details, and during, say, Passover, they would go to the Temple.
Sounded like a good long-distance relationship, right? Well, it looked good on paper (or rather, on stone). However, consider this perspective: the inevitable regression of passion in the people of Israel, as time passed.
The descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob were just out of Egypt, eyewitnesses to the absolute glory of God made visible through His absolute authority and surgical domination of the gods of Egypt. I could assume that they were quite in awe at the time. Their reaction to this would be the same as any human raving fan – they confidently declared before God that they could do anything He told them to.
So the Law was given, in God’s perfect timing. And I believe if there was ever a time for awe-inspired traditions to be introduced (such as not saying His name, but breathing it out – sound familiar), it was certainly at that time, fresh after the awesome miracles God did.
Flip through the rest of the Old Testament and you can see how given enough time, every man would fail under the perfect holy standards of God. Creations could not be as their Creator in holiness.
The system was perfect as a strategy – a grand strategy, even: Live by the Law daily as foxes, and by the Law remember who gave the Law, like hedgehogs. Only on a long enough timeline, the perfect standards of Law remained perfect, while their striving ruined their reputation, killed their bodies, and, finally, broke their spirit. The awe behind being speechless before God’s glory as it was centuries ago was no more. There was only exhaustion. There was only yet another tradition.
I write and update this now with some sadness. It’s a shame that no matter how much effort we put into our own foundation and progression, either as foxes or hedgehogs, it all comes to nothing.
Of course, I could be wrong.
(to be concluded)