The Acumen for Survival and Advancement
by G. David Schwartz
A series of motifs in literature allows us to say, as a general principle as well
as an experiential possibility, no one wants to be the younger brother. In folktales, the
narrative perspective is generally either told from the point of view of the older
brother, or else the younger brother is telling the tale of the younger brothers' death. A dead older brother does not represent that which older brothers typically represent. Therefore, to speak of a dead older brother, or to speak of the older brother who will turn out in the tale to die, is to speak of ones ability to survive without the qualities representational attributed to the older brother.
Older brothers represent not simply primogeniture and the right, which is, and obligations, which follow from being first born or eldest survivor, but also the qualities, expected to occur as a result of being eldest surviving son. The older brother, in all cases where there are two or more brothers, represents maturity, wisdom, skills and abilities, and the obligation, and practice of the obligation, to care for the extended family. The care for the extended family denotes the will and ability to provide not only for his wife and children, but his parents and his siblings if they are alive. Hence, the older brother represents the provision of security for survival and the means for advancement.
There is rarely, in typical folktales, a single son. Traditionally, there are three sons. There are rarely daughters, but when daughters are represented, there are rarely three (but may be seven). A single daughter is exceptional, but she soon binds with a male who relieves her of her exceptional status. Even in modern folk-fiction, Wonder Woman and Bat Girl are exceptional personalities only because they have not found and settled with the right man. Further, while sons traditionally struggle between themselves in some manner or another, the occurrence of more than one daughter typically finds the daughters getting along, with the exception of stepdaughters. Occasionally there is a single daughter who need not find the right male because a brother already protects her. Folklore simply did not know how to deal in a very real way with daughters.
A single daughter was simply insufficient to allow the (supposed) qualities of the single son, which also acts as the reason for the struggle between sons. Therefore, folklore bound daughters into larger groups of women, implying the hope that in the absence of one son who definitely could, seven daughters might supply that, which is represented by the eldest son.
The potency of the older brother, however, also represents the impotence of the younger brothers. If the older brother is mature, the latter born are to that extent immature. If the older is wise, the other is, if not ignorant, not yet wise. The emplacement of the older brothers' skills, abilities, and practices of obligations for survival and advancement not only detract from his sibling's acumen but also render them as not quite that important to the family.
No younger brother would be able to put up with this situation. No younger brother would be pleased to be disabled in such a manner. Therefore, younger brothers will be silent in the face of their older brothers' potency. They will only speak when the older brother is himself disabled. Thus, younger brothers write the tales of their older brothers only when they fall into disability, and they write as if they possess the qualities of the older brother.
If the older brother was disabled in a tale, the younger brother is the one to have dragged him to safety. Therefore the younger brother possesses the acumen for survival and advancement. If the older brother has turned wicked, or had been prodded to wickedness by Satan or some other force (which might even include the younger brother), then the younger brother becomes the force for good. Rarely does the younger brother himself disable the older brother. Yet the younger brother does always seem to be standing ready to replace him.
The disabling of the brother in form or content does not matter. What matters is the occurrence of the literary fact that the older brother has abandoned, or has had wrestled from him, the rights and obligations to offer survival and advancement.
The older brother, disabled, is as good a dead. Therefore, the younger brother inherits his status as provider and protector. If there are three brothers, the second brother is disabled as well, generally by the same process, so that the younger brother might inherit the wisdom, skills and abilities, which are implied in primogeniture. Finally, as is frequently the case in folktales, the older brother is disposed through the ultimate disabling event, death, which is analogous and corollary to the fathers handing of the birthrights to the youngest son.
One motif in the Bible concerns the father's direct giving of the birth right to the younger son. This Director giving may, of course, occur by duplicitous means, as in the case of Jacob deceiving Isaac, or David becoming prominent by the intervening choice of God after stoning Goliath or, as in the case of Cain, by default, even if the fault of the default was his own. The analogous corollary in folklore concerns the frequently used motif of three brothers who venture, one by one, to fulfill some mission or another. The first brother fails, is disabled, and/or dies. The second brother fails, is disabled, and/or dies. The youngest brother succeeds and in some, but not all cases, protects and defends the elder brothers who, ill, lame, or what have you, are as good a dead.
Outside literature, which is to say in the 3-D world (unless you have a really good computer), primacy if not primogeniture is given to the Brother who succeeds. In any confederacy, the older brother is the nation or people who substantiate a claim to protect and defend. Upon this claim, or assignation of the status of elder brother with rights and obligations, is the concurrent attribution of acumen for survival and advancement. The elder brother, or let us call him the United States of America, is, as long as he acts to assure or rhetorically convinces a sufficient number of others that he acts to insure survival and advancement of all, is attributed with, or thinks itself enable to claim, the wisdom, skills, maturity, rights and obligations which are the acumen for survival and advancement,
The story of the younger brother who is ever young is simply not told. He live-in the shadows (protected and defended, and/or plotting overthrow of his older brother). He lives as a recipient to the inclusive activity of the older, wiser, more mature, brother. The story of the younger brother is not told, in short, until the older brother and all the motifs, which composed him and benefits which enflame him dissolve in his failure or death. Surely this is the myth of the Jewish-Christian relationship and its corresponding reality!
Occasionally in literature as well as outside literature (or some hazy blend between them) we hear of a son who was not the oldest, who broke the motif, who de-literatures the literature (the way the world is perceived in literary tropes). David, for example, was neither the eldest son nor murdered or otherwise sought to disable his older brothers. His brothers do, however, simply disappear from the multiplicities stories told about David. His brothers have become irrelevant, literally disabled. Primogeniture does not matter and there under ripening wisdom is never an issue. The reason neither the overburdens of the elder son nor the under-girthing of skills toward success are relevant is because David, as the anti-motif stories goes, simply stepped forth to practice the acumen for survival and advancement by slaying Goliath.
What this means for literature is that whoever practices the acumen for survival and advancement, the maximal protection and defense of the most extensive community, is allowed to break literary paradigms. Such a person, a hero in the truest sense of the word, is permitted, without benefit of motif or real psychological expectations, to upset literary/psychology order without causing a corresponding chaos in either the epistemological systemic of the reader or in the real world. Outside literature, the primacy is given to the nation Permitted: to break rules, make new and different rules, abandon traditional rules so long and he/it insures the maximal engenderment or survival and advancement for the maxim of a number of peoples. There should be no corresponding chaos to the elder brothers' rights, privileges and obligations.
Of course, no Out there functions the same as "in here." No real world event corresponds, nor is analogous to literary events in terms of coherency or obedience to rules, motifs or structure, logic or deduction, history or prophecy. Literature is a safety zone in the real would of ambiguity and nonsense, violence and boredom. Literature is a means of attempting to understand the unread, unreadable world out there. This suggests that the acumen for survival and advancement is, in the real world, consistently threatened by debilitating realities, is not protected by literary structures, soothing motifs, editorial concerns for relative consistency, the safety of expectations, the ease of presentation, and so on. Hence, the author, redactor, or editor of a piece of literature has the time to structure his or her concern for survival and advancement. The politician, on the other hand, is limited by time (in office) and thrust into the timely realm of expediency where momentary decisions -- occasionally held long, occasionally not -- are tied to voter approval, expectations and the like as they are derived from rhetorical assessment, media, scrutiny and personal concern; in other words, capitulation, mineralization, Politics compromise, apathy, and activism if, when, and where it occurs.
The acumen for survival and advancement, however, when adhering to mineralization and capitulation, is not coherent. When wisdom is simply wise for a purpose, when skills and abilities are merely pragmatic and not principled, then maturity is either a rhetorical devise, which is useful for deceiving the population, intentionally or unintentionally, or is a temporary event. In either case, "maturity" is a form of subterfuge and inclusion is not maximized for survival but is another form of prejudicial choice. If so, the acumen for survival and advancement become something other than acumen.
It becomes politics as usual. Survival becomes something other than survival. It becomes the justification for murdering others. Advancement becomes other than advancement. It becomes stratification, revivification and separation of the possibilities for insight and action, which could attend to coherent relations. When the acumen for survival and advancement does not quest maximum inclusion, it is simply another form of exclusion, limitation, creation of younger brothers who the elder brother does not protect and defend so much as oppress, ridicule, lord over and, eventually, kill before he gets killed. This, too, is a part of what it means to be an older brother. Paradigmatically, the elder brother must prevent his threatening younger brothers from going to the father and stealing his birthright. Politically, the elder statements must prevent the younger from going into his coiffeurs and stealing his goods (or when votes are gold, going to constituents to steal his votes).
What this assessment means for folktale need not detain us. We can rest assured that the oral authority or editor throughout the history of telling or the practice or print will cause everything to come to the appropriate conclusion. A hero shall arise. The family will endure. The acumen will continue.
Yet "out there" we do not have the leisure nor the editorial power to return to an action to red line a careless phrase, or a poor description, a sad activity. We should not countenance what we would not put up with in our literature: a poor character, unresolved conflicts, lousy reading [of the general will]. Yet even though we are the character as well as the author of that character, the locus of conflict and the possibility of resolution of conflict, we must work out the paradigms and parameters in ourselves as we discover ourselves in a community. Our community, however, finds itself ringed by wider parameters and paradigms. I suggest the larger rings of protection and defense are ones, which rely less, recognize less, the legendary mythology of assessing/protecting paradigms.
The individual is the most myth-leavened part of the ripple. Particular communities at least have the beneficial capacity of subjecting mythos to the scrutiny of a community of scholars, diverse viewpoint to either elicit more insights or more narrowly focus the document at hand. Therefore, each generation allows itself the possibility, through its thinkers, to provide the dialogue through which the community might decide to enact the mythos as community. Alternatively, the community may choose, by that particular bracketing of the acumen to make choices, to engage the mythos as eternally true, and therefore eternally vexing in terms of seeking the larger inclusion.
The largest sphere is the circle of no myths, or better, momentary, expedient myths. Yet insofar as the largest circle may be the arena of the "big lie" as opposed to the grand propulsion, the community carries the capacity of critique or capitulation not only in the form of scholars and poets, philosophers, theologians and authors, but in each individual who has a voice. The individual has the power and ability to direct the community one way or the other, to politicize for inclusion or to abnegate the use of skill and abilities. The individual alone, the very stadium of mythos, possesses the possibility of acumen for survival and advancement.
But can the individual do what needs to be done alone? Typically, no. The individual can, however, disciple himself and herself to scrutinize the need and practice the greed for maximum acts of survival and advancement. He and she can benefit from the beneficence shown to others through both critical cogency and deeds done lovingly. Action teaches others values, virtue, or both. He and she can guide the community and community can have an impact on nations.
We look forward to a time not when there will be fewer folktales and myths but more. We enjoy the lessons they teach through the challenges they offer, diverse forms of entertainment both stimulating and possible. Folktales are slow, but long lasting. We remember Cinderella long after we have forgotten anything about the Mississippi Valley Authority. If so, we will learn to recognize and enjoy the prods which folklore and mythology offer as a means for us to pull ourselves beyond the entertainment of fantasy and fancy to the entertainment of bringing about a world which resembles the underpinning of mythos: a legendary, and therefore possible, world of heroics, coherency, inclusion, and winning the war against all forms of wickedness by breaking the paradigms of limitation and bursting the motifs of this world so that more and more people, men and women, Jew and Gentile, black person and white person, no longer need the struggles of brotherhood, nor the assumption of separate rules of daughterhood, nor certainly the rule of male dominance. Each can better him or her and their extended brothers and sisters through acts as acumen for survival and advancement.
To truly learn what survival means in terms of the race we have too frequently run separately - the human race - would mean to seek the interstices of survival through an inclusive advancement. In the end, it is either all of us or none of us. In the end, it is at least ironic that folklore, which some are eager to dismiss and primitive and unsubstantial, has long taught that the real clashes of brutality, between brother and brother, can be lessened through structured forms which might also amuse us. Such forms are simply not so severe that they will cause us to go to war. When the severity is removed from difference, and we might approach that which is different as one more element in the grand story, then we might also learn that in things, which really matter for survival and advancement, there are no privileged children. There are no older sons who are older only because they have younger siblings, wiser because of an implied stupidity of another, and so on. There are no privileged children. No son is necessarily better neither than any daughter nor vice verse. There are no privileged children. There are no black sheep in the family, which is most inclusive, most concerned to survive and advance together. There are no glistening white purities. These images occur when the stratification of myths occurs. In the real world of folklore, there are also black jewels and white sheering heats of hell. In the real world of mythology, there are pockets of reversal, surprise, the unexpected, which sunders glibness and static ways of thinking. The real world of story, everyone is a child, and none obviously privileged expect in the sense that each is in search of a happy ending.
Nor is the happy ending another reason to close the book or refuse the tale. In their struggle against wicked beasts that take the form of humans, the happy ending of most folklores, legends and myths do not establish one superior child over the others. Even the eldest brother has turned out to be nothing but a means of envisioning the goal. Rather, the happy ending turns out to be the renewal of relationships or the generation of new relationships. For in the end, relationships new and renewed, are the means of practicing the acumen for survival which is the inclusively of advancement
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G. David Schwartz is the former president of Seedhouse, the online interfaith committee. Schwartz is the author of A Jewish Appraisal of Dialogue, and coauthor, with Jacqueline Winston, of Parables In Black and White. Currently a volunteer at Drake Hospital in Cincinnati, Schwartz continues to write. His new book, Midrash and Working Out Of The Book is now in stores or can be ordered.
Check out his book on Midrash: www.amazon.com/
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