Monday, October 12, 2015

Big Tent coalitions must exceed their grasp

Every metaphorical 'Big Tent solution' or 'Big Tent coalition' is really very much like the original and distinctly physical circus Big Tent.

That means, be they relatively small or truly enormous, they all still must start with a Centre or King Pole.

Here, at the centre of the metaphorical Big Tent, one will find the most powerful, most rich, most successful ; the smartest, healthiest and most hardworking among the elite.

They are always inside any successful metaphorical Big Tent because it can't really begin to exist without them.

No more than a circus Big Tent can go up without first settling the central King Pole in its secure foundation.

But a really huge King Pole doesn't a huge metaphorical Big Tent make --- that is really determined by how far out the tent creators chose to extend it along the edges.

How far out, how far away from the King Pole, have the little tent pegs been placed ?

How many of the little people, the weak and the 'unfit and unworthy', how many of the powerless, have been invited into the Big Tent?

For the rich and powerful are always so precisely because they hold conventional ideas, are conventionality itself.

Unconventional crisis calls for unconventional solutions

But an enormous crisis can be defined as a time when conventionality has failed.

Only really new ideas, only new ideas from out in left field, ideas seemingly only found out at the very tent peg limits of the metaphorical Big Tent, will get everyone out of the jam.

But a circus might put up a really tall King Pole but then barely extend out the circle of tent poles - they are metaphorically saying to the world of potential customers, 'we really only want the old time, hard core, circus fans to turn up - all other newcomers stay away, out beyond the gates'.

Such was the Allied position in the early days of WWII.

Or a circus can extend the circus tent pegs way way way out, far beyond fitting in the entire population of the small town they pitched at.

Metaphorically they are inviting in customers from even the poorest and raggedest dirty ends of the furthest-off-the-main-roads backwoods settlements.

What they may succeed in doing, in practise, is seeing that many of the slightly more affluent and closer in rural people actually turn up, boosting the take beyond the normal 'townie only' crowd.

Because, again in practise, big new solutions probably aren't likely going to come from people at the very ragged bottom end of society but rather from people in the middle.

People not normally invited inside the blessed circle but not people at the bottom either.

So why then bother to extend the tent pegs so far out beyond this badly needed middle crowd - why not then leave the 'losers' out beyond the Big Tent's edge ?

Jesus explains

Maybe a very well known but not easily understood metaphor from the Bible might help explain.

Jesus in Matthew 31-46 doesn't merely  send the goodies to heaven and the baddies to hell on judgement day based upon whether or not they helped the sick, the thirsty and hungry, the poor and naked, the imprisoned and the stranger.

After all, all societies have always helped these people.

But they always done so very badly.

They are always doing it on the cheap - financially and far more importantly, emotionally.

They have always found it easy to extend a helping hand to the neat clean grateful deserving poor of their own tribe and caste.

They have never found it easy to really embrace the dirty, smelly, ungrateful members of alien tribes.

'But we are only human', they wail, if one complains that they have fallen short of Jesus's command.


Browning explains : Truly successful 'big tent coalitions of all the talents' MUST include the 'untalented' least of these, MUST exceed their grasp

For heaven commands that we humans exceed our personal best, try to reach further than we can ever possibly grasp.

We are set upon this earth not to secure merely easy wins, obtaining by shooting fish in a barrel, but by nobly losing a close marathon : life.

For 'what's a heaven for ?' asks Browning's painter.

So, even when we fail to make our physical grasp go as far as our mental reach, we still end up reaching far further than we had originally thought possible or practicable : trying but failing to give our 110%, we still get to 90%, far beyond our normal personal best of 70%.

Henry Dawson explains 

Dr Henry Dawson knew his Matthew 31-46 and his Browning well.

Intuitively he seemed to have sensed the need to see that his metaphorical Big Tent project, while it could only afford a very small and short King Pole, should extend its tent pegs way way out to include the very 'least of these' that it was possible to even imagine.

Only then could it morally force the far less ambitious beings leading the Allied coalition building efforts to at least extend their coalition's efforts half way between the easy lazy low edges they had originally sought and the heavenly high outer edges that Dawson's project demanded.

In SBE lies the key

Virtually every doctor in the world in 1940 thought that defeating the invariably and eventually always fatal disease called SBE, subacute bacterial endocarditis, would forever remain beyond human science's grasp.

That group probably included Henry Dawson !

All the more puzzling then that he picked this disease, one he had never tackled before, to use to prove up the worth of the new untested drug called penicillin when many deadly but easily cured diseases lay within penicillin's easy reach.

But proving up penicillin was never Dawson's aim - nor simply curing SBE .

He wanted to embolden the Allied high command's moral sense.

He aimed to do so by showing that a truly metaphorically big Big Tent whose reach exceeds its grasp and so in some sense fails, can none the less  better rouse and unite the world around the moral worth of the Allied cause than can a moderately dimensioned Big Tent that easily succeeded in plucking mere low hanging fruit.

This is why Dawson deliberately rejected the conventional and the stick to the central King Pole approach.

So he rejected the general medical consensus that the war wounded would just have to grin and bare it until commercial synthetic penicillin was made in big factories, way sometime off in the future, perhaps even after the war's end.

(It still hasn't arrived, almost 90 years after commercial synthetic penicillin efforts first began...)

Instead he reached for natural penicillin, made right now !, made way out at the tent peg edges, by tiny penicillium microbes (slime really), grown under artisan conditions by his tiny team, basically on an ordinary kitchen table top.

And after deliberately selecting slime to be his top scientific helpers, the least of these of all possible lifeforms, he then deliberately selected SBE patients from Jewish and Black minority groups, to be his preferred first patients.

The SBEs had already been written off as' life unworthy of scarce wartime medical care', mostly because they usually came from the working class minorities and immigrant poor. Core Democratic party voters, to be blunt about it.

The Polio of the Poor

Wartime rationing of scarce medical resources did not affect continuing and massive research efforts into Polio, a disease of the well off white republican suburbs.

But the minority/working class SBEs were regarded as 'the 4Fs of the 4Fs', the least of these in anyone's books.

But it isn't enough to say that Dawson emulated Jesus in selecting the least of these as those to be helped and the least of these to do the helping.

Minorities, the poor, immigrants were also ravaged by Gonorrhea , a form of VD, and all forms of VD pushed its sufferers down into the least of these in those morally very tight-laced times.

Gonorrhea was easily cured by penicillin.

But merely employing least of these foulsome slime as helpers to easily cure a disease of the foulsome VD sufferer least of these was never enough for Jesus.

Where was the sweat, the disappointment, the courage to carry on in the face of huge setbacks and fierce resistance ?

Penicillium slime was the least of these of scientific helpers, his tiny team the least of these in terms of Big Science, black and Jewish working class patients the least of these to be helped but to really extend his metaphorical Big Tent, Dawson selected SBE, then regarded as the Mount Everest of all fatal infectious diseases to conquer.

Four smalls needed for Dawson's reach to exceed his grasp

Dawson needed four smalls to fully extend the reach of his metaphorical Big Tent out beyond his grasp.

Help from small slime penicillin factories assisted by a small team of human artisan helpers basically working on humble kitchen table tops.

Small patients, working class minorities, with the small disease of SBE ---small in the sense of being a very unimportant disease in wartime priorities, because it was considered impossible to cure and so expensive to go through the repeated 'Code Slow' motions until the patient finally died.

The irony of all this was that while Dawson killed himself in his efforts to do so, unexpectedly, he did succeed in curing the unbeatable SBE with his homemade natural penicillin !

Pax Penicillia

And some of the Allies did unexpectedly reverse their war aims.

Albeit under public pressure after Dawson's unexpected SBE success.

Still, America at least moved to mass produce natural penicillin and to then rush it by plane to the dying all around the Neutral world - greatly expanding the moral reach of the Allies' Big Tent efforts to unite the world against the Axis.

America's Pax Penicillia (while Britain the discoverer of penicillin did nothing) let the air out of all the great good will earlier extended to Britain for surviving the Blitz and led to the postwar Pax Americana replacing the century old Pax Britanica...

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