Monday, January 25, 2021

 The Rechabite Principle
in a Nutshell 

When I lived in Houston in the early 1980s I had a good friend named June ("JU-nee"). June had immigrated to Texas from Korea in his early 20s.

One day the topic of Tae Kwon Do came up. June said that he had learned Tae Kwon Do when serving in the Korean military—as all military recruits must. I asked him, "Do you remember it?" 

"No, I forget just about everything. But I remember the most important thing."

"What's the most important thing?"

"If you can't beat your adversary, run away."

I laughed.

"It's not funny. It's the real truth. If you can't beat your adversary, what is smarter than running away? It's better than the American philosophy."

"What is the American philosophy?"

"Don't Americans say, 'If you can't beat 'em, join 'em?"

I think I probably laughed again. "That's certainly an expression but I don't think we usually mean it as a philosophy of life," I told June. "I wonder if any other nationalities have a different philosophy."

"Oh, yes." said June. "The Japanese."

"What's the Japanese idea?"

"If you can't beat your enemy, kill yourself."

Knowing of the age-old rivalry between the Koreans and the Japanese, I took June's words with a grain of salt. June, was, in fact what you call a salt-of-the-earth kind of guy. 

He named another philosophy: fight to the death even if your chances of winning seem to be zero.

Though June wasn't the sort to be prejudicial against individuals because of their ethnicity, religion, or philosophies, there was a grain of truth in the ideas he was expressing—namely that there are different ideas that people may subscribe to, consciously or subconsciously, as individuals, as part of a society, or as a society taken as a whole. 

And so, to recap, there are different philosophies on how to deal with an unconquerable adversary. Four key philosophies are:

1. Run away. "Get out of Dodge" another American expression goes.

2. Adapt to the adversary's terms. "Go with the flow." Or, "Go along to get along" as a couple more American expressions go.

3. Refuse to let your enemy gain the upper hand by sacrificing your own life. "Saving face," perhaps?

4. Fight to the death, even though your own death is the surest outcome. "Remember the Alamo," anyone?

It seems to me that whether we're talking about Americans, or the rest of human societies on planet Earth, that the most popular ideas are to adapt to the adversary's terms or to fight to the death. 

The "Rechabite" philosophy is based on the idea that if you can't conquer your adversaries—or convert them to your views—then you should distance yourself from them. In such a situation, what is smarter than divorcing yourself from that society and fleeing so far away that that society has no influence over you?

And yet, how infrequently do people choose that wisest course? Hardly ever. When they do those people are following what scholar Hugh Nibley calls the Rechabite principle.

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Orem, Utah—January 25, 2021—©2021 Daniel Kemper Lubben



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