Thursday, 2 December 2021

Today's Day Thought Experiment: The Oregon Trail

Brilliant! What if the Church was a pioneer wagon train, headed west on the Oregon trail? 'Marcel the Craftsman'! I love it!

From Fr Z's Blog

A friend sent this:

I never played Oregon Trail, but I watched enough Westerns and studied enough history that I get the gist.

Today’s day thought experiment:

The wagon train is headed west. After crossing the Mississippi, things seem to go well through the plains – but then as things start to rise toward the Rockies, the going gets tougher. There are some Native attacks, the path gets more difficult. The wagon train is still largely together, but it’s showing signs of imminent trouble.

The leadership calls a brief halt to discuss what’s going wrong and how best to address the situation. Among the concerns are the wagons themselves. There have been several broken wheels, which take time to repair, and riding in them on the rougher terrain is not quite the same as when the road was clear and flat. Someone speaks up and notes that most of the plains natives use travois, without wheels. Someone else speaks up and says, “Hey, I remember, back in New England we often used sleighs to travel around. I think I have a painting here somewhere to prove it.” The leadership votes and decides that, from this point on, the wagon train is only going to use non-wheeled means of transportation.

One guy, let’s call him Marcel the Craftsman, thinks this is silly. He decides that he’s going to keep the wheels on his wagon. The leadership and many of the other folks expel him from the wagon train, so he and a few followers go off on their own, but keep heading in the same direction, smaller, but determined.

The wagon train takes off all the wheels and starts slogging west. The tough going gets even tougher – but the leadership focuses on the good things: they haven’t had to stop in days to repair a broken wheel! It’s amazing! It’s like a new springtime has broken out!

Some people complain about the lost wheels, and the convoy gets noticeably smaller – some folks head off on their own, some folks just decide to stay where they’re at, figuring that even without moving in that direction, they’ll all eventually get to Oregon anyway. Some folks begin doubting whether there really is an Oregon, or whether it’s just some myth concocted to keep them in line. All the experts agree, though, that getting rid of the wheels was the best thing that ever happened to the wagon train, and no one is allowed to talk about how much more smoothly the journey was back when there were wheels.

But eventually, after some complaints, the leadership allows some limited use of wheels. Only on Sundays in the late afternoon. Only to appease those silly folks that just can’t get over their nostalgia for back when there were wheels. The painting of the sled in New England is copied so that everyone can see that this is how the early wagon train used to travel, and so it’s obviously better than those nasty wheels.

The road gets worse and worse. More uphill – it’s like there a whole world ranged against our little wagon train. Even without wheels, there are starting to be major problems with the wagons. They’re wearing out, looking really dated and worse for the wear. Not too many young people ride in them anymore. Some walk alongside. Most wander off, aimless, wondering whether maybe this is Oregon here and now? Many of them are picked off by bears.

At last, one of the leaders says, “Okay. I’m going to allow those who want to put wheels back on their wagons to do so, at their own discretion, but we’re going to have to all stay in the same wagon train, helping each other. Maybe there can even be some mutual enrichment. The wheels might work better in some places, and the travois better in others. We’re not at cross purposes here. We’re all trying to get to Oregon, after all.”

For awhile, thing seem to go pretty well. The wheeled carts make some significant progress, although a few of them get a little vociferous about how much better the wheeled wagons are than the travois. A new leader hears the complaints from the folks who insist on sticking with the non-wheeled wagons. He decides enough is enough! He orders most of the wheeled wagons to either take their wheels off again, or at least move over to another path, so as not to offend the travois people. He reminds them that, back when the leadership addressed the problems, in the distant foothills of the Rockies, they agreed to take the wheels off. “Travois are the only expression of the lex procedendi of this wagon train!” he exclaims.

And now the wagon train is deep in the Rockies. The road is tough. There are bears and wolves lurking, seeing weakness. There are hostile tribes ready to attack. The weather has taken a turn for the worse. It would be tough for the wagon train to navigate in the best of condition, but rather than face these problems with a united front, the members of the wagon train are engaged in backbiting and mutual criticism. Many begin to even wonder if the leadership knows where Oregon is?

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