By their fruits ye shall know them.

Knowing the fruits is easy enough at the extremes. Mitt Romney is rich, smart, handsome, blessed with many children & grandchildren, married lifelong, earnest, service-minded, possessed of character … those fruits are good. The malevolent, muttering, alcoholic bum you meet has bad fruits.

But whereas discernment is easy, imitation is hard. Both Mitt Romney and the bum are far enough from me that observing them gives me no clear starting point. Success and failure are easier to understand if they are broken up into discrete domains.

(That is one reason for mortality. There are many reasons God hides. One of them is that He is too entire in glory and goodness for us to understand and imitate. Why, we ask, does God not let the light of the shining city we seek blaze up so bright that even from far off we can see it and feel sure of our direction? Because in that glare, we would not see the step in front of us.)

Yet where success and failure are mingled, the causes can be hard to sift out also. Some successes are just elaborate forms of long-term failure.

Call up in your mind a rocky, broken land of small valleys, isolated peninsulas, and scattered islands.  Call it Reece.

A great empire is trying to conquer the little city-states of Reece, one by one.  This enemy empire, the Ersians, is possessed of a large fleet with contingents of marines.  Their landing will be opposed at the ports and the beaches near the cities.  So the fleet looks for remote beaches where, once landed, their marines can march on the nearest city and overwhelm it.  Therefore the various cities each maintain a watch on their coasts, that their soldier, by desperate marching, might meet the invaders at the water’s edge and therefore prevail.

In Racia, the Racian soldiery maintains a strict program of physical fitness.  When the alarm comes that the Ersian fleet is approaching one of their coasts, their troops are able to cover the miles rapidly and arrive in time to fight.  However, armor is unknown in Racia and their soldiers are beat back by the darts that come from ships.

In Orinth, the soldiery is not fit.  When the word comes that the Ersians are debouching on a beach some 20 miles away, the Orinthian generals determine that they must discard their armor if they are to arrive on time.  Arrive on time they do–but armorless, they are also beat back by the darts from the ships.

In Thens, the men are both fit and armored.  When the alarm sounds, they arrive at their beach in plenty of time.  Enough so that they take off their armor to rest and scatter in small groups to while the time.  When the Ersians start to land, the Thenians have to react in haste.   Half-armored, half-reassembled, they are defeated.

In Parta, the men are both fit and armored.  They arrive at their respective beach, wait patiently in arms, and drive the Ersians into the surf.

Though the Racians failed, their initial success in arriving at the beach was independent of their failure.  Another city-state could profitably learn their physical fitness techniques.

The initial Orinthian success was also the cause of the Orinthian failure.  There is nothing to imitate there.

The Thenians should interest us.  Their success caused their failure.  But their failure was not inevitable and nothing about the way they succeeded caused their failure.  It was success itself.  A polity could imitate the Thenians in all particulars except how the Thenians reacted to their own apparent successful arrival.  The Book of Mormon is a record of failure of the Thenian type.


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