Friday, October 16, 2015

Everything is now The Benedict Option

Finding that not having bothered to think very much about what, if any, substantial meaning underpins his widely-marketed catch phrase "The Benedict Option" has left him a bit short of change at the Q & A counter, Rod Dreher has now turned his attention to filling that bottomless moat he's managed to dig around his castle with whatever immediately comes to hand, particularly through crowdsourcing on his blog.

We can help!

Previously pressed by one of his young devotees, Leah Libresco, to name practical examples of how a Christian might engage and exercise his Benedict Option, Leah tells us "between the two of them, they came up with:"

1) invite a group to dinner;
2) memorize a poem;
3) adopt a prayer rule.

The other brain referred to in this two-brainer Leah credits above was Ken Myers.

Clearly anyone can see all of these are powerful activities, unique to this most unique of concepts, one itself uniquely critical for surviving these most difficult of dark times now and ahead, particularly if one is utterly clueless about the existing Christian resources abounding in the most Christian nation in the world.

With these three above as our guide, I believe we can all now contribute to fleshing out Rod's full Benedict Option program in its entirety. I'll begin.

 4) Stand tall against the encroaching barbarism: capitalize your sentences.
 5) Go placidly amid the noise and the haste, and remember what peace there may be in silence.
 6) Sing a song.
 7) Give thy thoughts no tongue, nor any unproportioned thought his act.
 8) Don't swear in church.
 9) Be thou familiar, but by no means vulgar.
10) Take a kid fishing.
11) As far as possible, without surrender, be on good terms with all persons.
12) Look both ways before crossing the street.
13) Those friends thou hast, grapple them to thy soul with hoops of steel.
14) Stop! Don't touch. Run away. Tell a grown-up.
15) Speak your truth quietly and clearly; and listen to others,
16) If you borrow your neighbor's weed wacker, return it, with a thank you.
17) Avoid loud and aggressive persons; they are vexatious to the spirit.
18) Dress warmly in cool weather and coolly in warm.
19) Neither a borrower nor a lender be.
20) Go fly a kite.
21) Give every man thy ear, but few thy voice.
22) Paint the house, and do it right this time.
23) Enjoy your achievements as well as your plans.
24) Bake a pie.
25) Keep interested in your own career, however humble.
26) Help a little old lady across the street.
27) Remember, you are a caring nurturer, so nurture strength of spirit to shield you in sudden misfortune.
28) Build a better mousetrap.
29) Keep your head when all about you are losing theirs and blaming it on you.
30) Start a Pilates group.
31) Do not dull thy palm with entertainment of each new-hatch'd, unfledged comrade.
32) Drop that unneeded comprehensive coverage and save fifteen per cent.
33) Be gentle with yourself. You are a child of the universe no less than the trees and the stars.
34) Lean forward.
35) Always remember, you're good enough, you're smart enough, and doggonit, people like you.
36) Take a bite out of crime.
37) Explore a new hobby. The world will always need another flugelhorn player.
38) Exercise caution in your business affairs, for the world is full of trickery.
39) Lift with the legs, never with the back.
40) Take each man's censure, but reserve thy judgment.
41) Master the game of bridge.
42) Be yourself. Especially do not feign affection.
43) Don't bite the hand that feeds you.
44) Meet with Triumph and Disaster and treat those two impostors just the same.
45) Measure twice, cut once.
46) Take kindly the counsel of the years, gracefully surrendering the things of youth.
47) Launch a book club. You know whose books to buy.
48) Trust yourself when all men doubt you, but make allowance for their doubting, too.
49) Keep both feet planted firmly on the ground.
50) Tell your children you love them.

Whew! And that's only the start of inventorying the entire universe of human experience and practice for systematic inclusion as examples of the Benedict Option, particularly without the help of those handy label guns that stick those tiny little number code labels on the bell peppers which you can never get off because - Duh! - they use a hydrocarbon-soluble glue, not a water-based glue, and who in their right mind cleans their bell peppers in gasoline?

So, please, help. Give generously to make this the best and most complete Benedict Option list ever.

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Benedict Option Marketing Problems

Let's get a few things out of the way at the outset. Despite Rod Dreher's wish to evoke and insinuate any or all of these, his so-called Benedict Option was never practiced by Benedict of Nursia, nor did Alasdair MacIntyre ever recommend a "Benedict Option" in After Virtue. As Pauli has already said most succinctly of Dreher's calculatingly manufactured phrase, "It's not Benedictine and it's not an option."

What is it I'm addressing here, then?

Although Rod wants to draw on several threads in Christian tradition in compounding a marketing brand about which to then write and sell a book, resonant as Benedict of Nursia, Pope Emeritus Benedict, or MacIntyre's invocation of the name Benedict might be within those traditional Christian circles searching for a silver bullet to save themselves from what troubles them about the age we live in, outside such limited circles the phrase "The Benedict Option" itself immediately becomes as intuitively opaque a name for a brand as Snapple. Unless you already know what it refers to, you haven't a clue what it refers to.

Let's not forget, as its creator himself has explained on more than one occasion "The Benedict Option" is not a collection of examples Dreher is struggling to give a name to but just the opposite, a phrase he continues to struggle to explain and provide uniquely meaningful representative examples of.

As a matter of fact, enter "Benedict" into Google, and the first thing that pops up is the face of this guy:

Wrong Benedict

Rod Dreher chose the phrase "The Benedict Option" for his book-to-be marketing project for several reasons, first, as mentioned, for the evocative value of "Benedict" among traditional Christians, his hoped for core readership. His now moribund sock puppet side project "The Benedict Post" pursued the same strategy.

Second, branding it as a capitalized "Option" gives it powerful dynamism, particularly with respect to any group currently feeling helpless. Benedict + Option, opaque as that compound still is, now becomes a murky clarion call to action, somewhere between a pre-planned "Take the children and go to your sister's!" and the hopelessly unpredictable results of firing off a six shooter in the night in the midst of a herd of cattle.

Hopefully, though, with this dynamic "Option" now an equal ingredient in the marketing phrase someone, somewhere will now want to do something Rod can write about.

But the problem of the opacity of the phrase stubbornly remains, dynamism or not. Here is "The Benedict Option", now placed within a field of phrases which similarly do not contain their meaning within themselves:

The Network Effect
The Benedict Option
The Spearmint Rhino
The China Syndrome
Heaven's Gate
The Holcroft Covenant
The Apocalypse Watch

I really have no doubt that Dreher chose "The Benedict Option" to evoke the same dynamic thrill intended to be invoked by this list. Perhaps he had visions of Shawnee Smith or someone else headlining a made-for-TV anti-cultural Christian thriller, but in his zeal to unilaterally attempt to generate publicity buzz for a not-yet-existent Christian movement in order to then someday write a book about it, he unfortunately managed to couple an intuitively opaque branding vehicle with a concept he could never hope to trademark or otherwise protect.

Why is this a problem? We'll see in further detail below.

First, Dreher could have formed an organization incorporating "The Benedict Option" as part of its legally protected identity and then pushed franchises. Unfortunately that option would be obviously even more self-serving than his current efforts and, needless to say, far harder to sell by appeals to "the disaster of the Enlightenment and modernity itself."

But even if he had given his inchoate phrase-concept such a definitive rooting, legally protected brands can still find themselves either unexpectedly on the wrong side of history like this once happy and promising product

"Why take diet pills when you can enjoy Ayds?"
or else somehow hopelessly ill-conceived from the start.

So. Even though Rod is burning his candle at both ends trying to recruit other Christians under an umbrella label they, but most often he and he alone, regardless of their interest or consent, refer to as "The Benedict Option", he can't legally protect his only-a-concept - now containing and implicating their lives as well - in any way whatsoever. Such as, for example, from ending up in the Urban Dictionary alongside "truffle butter" (not safe for decent people to look up; you have been warned). Just take my word for it, it's not a French delicacy.

Or from having someone else subsequently appropriate Dreher's coolly hip "Benedict Option" phrase for their own ends and actually trademark it as their exclusive legal property after the fact of his having unilaterally subsumed every other Christian he can manage to rub up against under it, like this hypothetical future entrepreneur of a chain of decidedly non-Benedictine establishments decided to do.

His focus at least seems to be heterosexual:

The next one's need not be.

Yes, there's Wikipedia disambiguation, but do you really want your non-immediate friends and relatives even wondering why on Earth you and your family are somehow mixed up with that chain of gay bathhouses you heard about on the news named "The Benedict Option"?

So let me summarize the problems surrounding Dreher's attempt to create a marketing brand called "The Benedict Option" in order that he can further his career as a writer by writing a book about it:

  • Outside of those already practicing what they need to be doing and who already know what the words refer to, "The Benedict Option" is an inscrutably opaque phrase, meaning nothing - or anything - to the broader population at large.
  • The only-a-concept "Benedict Option" and the phrase referring to it as Dreher wishes to employ it cannot be patented or trademarked or otherwise legally protected from any sort of abuse; but
  • Anyone else can, after Dreher has already published that your wife is a "Benedict Option Mama" and your kids are "Ben Op" kids, subsequently appropriate the phrases  "The Benedict Option" and "Ben Op" to his own, including conceivably quite nasty, ends while legally protecting his exclusive use of them - for example, suing you for illegaly using them - to whatever those ends happen to be.

Here's the bottom line as I see it. Do you feel a need to replenish, recharge, reassert your Christianity? If so, why would you want to consign yourself and your family to this sort of "Benedict Option" branding trap? What could you possibly hope to gain by assuming Dreher's manufactured mantle of faux-authenticity?

Instead, here are a number of already proven and well-established hallmarks under the aegis of which to assemble your efforts:

Jesus Christ, Our Lord and Saviour
The Catholic Church
The Presbyterian Church
The Methodist Church
The Episcopal Church
The Baptist Church
The Orthodox Church

You get the idea. And there are many, many others, all intuitively transparent, completely unambiguous, and every one immune to reappropriation to commercial ends you may not have considered, the worst of which I have already effortlessly imagined for you above.

We are called to be salt and light to the world. One of the assumptions underpinning that divine commission is having a grasp above that of a six-year-old of how that doggone real world works in the age in which one is commissioned. I have serious doubts that Rod Dreher has a clue, but that at worst need only be a problem for him and his family, not you and yours.

Please, fellow Christians, just think before you allow someone else to label you and your family to suit his own commercial ends above all others. Your children may end up thanking you most of all.