Monday, June 16, 2008

Capon quote:

"Direct, straight-line, intervening power does, of course, have many uses. With it, you can lift the spaghetti from the plate to your mouth, wipe the sauce off your slacks, carry them to the dry cleaners, and perhaps even make enough money to ransom them back. Indeed, straight-line power ("use the force you need to get the result you want") is responsible for almost everything that happens in the world. And the beauty of it is, it works. From removing the dust with a cloth to removing your enemy with a .45, it achieves its ends in sensible, effective, easily understood ways.
"Unfortunately, it has a whopping limitation. If you take the view that one of the chief objects in life is to remain in loving relationships with other people, straight-line power becomes useless. Oh, admittedly, you can snatch your baby boy away from the edge of a cliff and not have a broken relationship on your hands. But just try interfering with his plans for the season when he is twenty, and see what happens, especially if his chosen plans play havoc with your own. Suppose he makes unauthorized use of your car, and you use a little straight-line verbal power to scare him out of doing it again. Well and good. But suppose further that he does it again anyway -- and again and again and again. What do you do next if you are committed to straight-line power? You raise your voice a little more nastily each time till you can't shout any louder. And then you beat him (if you are stronger than he is) until you can't beat any harder. Then you chain him to a radiator till....But you see the point. At some very early crux in that difficult, personal relationship, the whole thing will be destroyed unless you -- who, on any reasonable view, should be allowed to use straight-line power -- simply refuse to use it; unless, in other words, you decide that instead of dishing out justifiable pain and punishment, you are willing, quite foolishly, to take a beating yourself.
"But such a paradoxical exercise of power, please note, is a hundred and eighty degrees away from the straight-line variety. It is, to introduce a phrase from Luther, left-handed power...Left-handed power is precisely paradoxical power: power that looks for all the world like weakness, intervention that seems indistinguishable from nonintervention."
(Kingdom, Grace, Judgment, pp. 18-19)


disco boy said...

great quote. does the rest of his writing read the same way?

Anonymous said...

Is an "intervention" an example of "straight line power"?

Anonymous said...

I repeat, is an AA "intervention" an example of "straight line power"? If not, why not, and if so, then is it therefore "bad"? The "grace" patrol needs an answer...

John Zahl said...

Dear Anon,

thanks for the question. I would love to know your name, and I don't usually respond to anonymous posts, as the anonymous thing makes this all feel very impersonal and cold, puts me immediately on the defensive as though you want to attack me or something, even though I'm sure you didn't intend that. I only say that for future reference, but today, for example, someone posted the words "grow up" anonymously on a different post and, because of it, I now can help but wonder if you and that "anonymous person" are one in the same? Sometimes people hide behind anonymous monikers because they want to throw stones in a way that is mean and I don't want to support that kind of thing here on this blog obviously...But your question is very meaty and seems to be genuinely concerned with the theological side of my postings and so I doubt you are the same person, but you catch my drift.

So, to get down to biz, I don't know the answer but do have a few thoughts that might help you to think about the matter:

Let's see,... The question has been rolling around in my head ever since you first posted it.

I think that, yes, most AA type interventions are indeed examples of "straight-line power", and most alcohol/substance-abuse related interventions also don't work. My hunch is that there's a connection, maybe even a law of proportionality to be had there.

At the same time I think that human nature (in light of our sinful wiring) stands in direct opposition to accepting defeat, submission, surrender, and/or relinquishing control our own plans. Because of this, I think Grace is always by definition a kind of intervention, or, rather, since God cannot find cooperation in the heart of the human, grace must be intervening in its nature. I do think that grace always comes accross as a surprise or as something unexpected, the unanticipated or (more accurately) counter-intuitve resolution to any situation. Do you see where I'm coming from? This leads me to think that, for a person who is suffering from true alcoholism, an intervention can be seen as pure grace in the left-handed, non-straight-line sense. It's like freeing a hostage, rather than putting pressure on someone.

Lastly, this leads me to assume that there are two forms of intervention, one being straight-line and the other being left-handed, and the distinction between the two lies in the perception of the one being intervened upon. Many addicts pray that God will stop them from using because they know that they can stop themselves. For that person, and intervention would be most welcome. The problem is that most addicts and alcoholics have to get to very low points in order usually to see things in such a light, and for a person who doesn't see their own predicament as being desperate, any intervention will be interpreted most likely as an affront (in the straight-line sense) and, says my hunch, it may produce a short period of abstinence followed my severe and intense relapse.

One other thing, there are interventions of the straight-line variety that do work (in all the good ways one might expect and hope for). In those situations, usually a person finds themselves restrained in a straight-line sense (i.e., against their will), but then in that place, there comes a kind of realization of defeat, which births forth a whole new seemingly grace-filled chapter. That kind of thing often happens because one butts up against the Law (in the court system sense). usually a person in such a state initially doesn't think they need any help and then later they realize that they did, that what they thought was one thing, turns out in fact to have been another. Think of being grateful for a break-up, for example.

Are these ramblings helpful? What do you think about the issue? I probably should have asked that beforehand.

John Zahl said...

One other thing,

usually effective interventions come from outside forces (i.e., not from family members) but rather from cops, car accidents, being utterly broke, and overdoses and things like that. Due to the impersonal, un-inolved (at least emotionally) nature of such interventions, it's no wonder that so many people who do sober up come to it through those means, rather than from parental protestations (which are almost always straight-line and rarely work).

Anonymous said...

Thank you for the thoughtful response. There is a lot to what you have said that I think is true. If "intervention" is "second use" law, then there is love in, around and through it, and it has a chance. But grace is forgiveness, 100%, it is not a method of behavior modification. If "grace" is seen by its bearer as a means to an end, no matter how worthy and "helpful" the end, it is BS. The "gracious" then become the disillusioned. The sad truth is that, this side of Glory, neither "grace" nor "law" work to bring about much lasting change, but that is not the point. The point is love and forgiveness, not results.
I understand your concerns, but I will remain "anonymous", since that is as good a name as any. That's just the price of blogging, I guess.