…not that the other steps are easy…
I am responsible when anyone, anywhere
Reaches out for help, I want my hand to be there
- The Shattered Fortress, Dream Theater (lyrics by Mike Portnoy, dedicated to Bill W.)
This will be complicated…. Splitting it into two parts will help.
First, the song. The Shattered Fortress appears on the 2009 release, Black Clouds and Silver Linings. It is the last song in what is known as the Twelve-Step Suite by Dream Theater – with the lyrics all written by the drummer, Mike Portnoy.
As you might have surmised, it is his reflection on his experience of alcoholism and recovery via Alcoholics Anonymous (hence, the dedication to William Griffith Wilson, also known as Bill Wilson or Bill W. – the co-founder of this organization). Portnoy took his final drink on April 20, 2000. It was his thirty-third birthday. He credits AA with saving his life.
Altogether, the Suite includes five songs, with one song appearing on each of five consecutive Dream Theater albums spanning over seven years, from 2002 – 2009. The lyrics above are the last lines of the last of these five songs, identified as XII: Responsible. Step twelve, as published by Alcoholics Anonymous, reads as follows:
Having had a spiritual awakening as the result of these steps, we tried to carry this message to alcoholics, and to practice these principles in all our affairs.
The song incorporates the words from what is commonly known as the Prayer of St. Francis. There are other passages of equally meaningful reflection – all from the view of looking at the life of another, of how to be of service, of how to hold humility and empathy. Some examples:
Justice but do not judge
Courtesy for others' flaws
Kindness -- it's not that hard
Self-restraint of tongue and pen
Inventory -- my daily friend
Analysis let down your guard
I always thought that this song was one of the best examples of Dream Theater, both lyrically and musically. But when it first came out – and for several years thereafter – I couldn’t listen to the ending, regarding my responsibility. And, for sure, I couldn’t sing along with it.
It was about six years ago when I really began transitioning this blog from something close to dogmatic libertarianism toward the idea of searching for liberty. This transition began with a challenge from an anonymous commenter: you are so critical of left-libertarians…so, what about Hoppe?
That question resulted in this post. I know the transition began around then, because in the same moth I wrote about my dogmatism. Clearly, the transition wasn’t immediate – yet, undoubtedly, I have changed. Of course, some of my readers from that time would say that I devolved (and some told me so, rather forcefully).
Reflecting this transition…I have come to be able to at least listen to the aforementioned lyrics – the lyrics of my responsibility. While I am able to sort of sing along, I am not yet to the point where I can sing this part with anywhere near the gusto of the other parts of the song. It strikes me that this represents some measure of how far I have come – and how far I have to go – in this journey of the Golden Rule and of doing my part to establish both liberty and God’s kingdom.
I am regularly reminded of a comment – I think it was from Roger, but maybe not. He made a point to say how we each have responsibility for the madness around us (this was even before the madness that began March 2020). I pushed back on this. But now, I am not so sure that I was right to do so.
Sure, when it comes to the evils of the state in all its forms, I can claim some innocence – at least not more guilt than that of one swimming in the mud of this society; I can’t help but get a little dirty. But what of those around me, in the circles that I have touched? My sins of omission and commission have ripples, and those ripples spread to others – and who knows how far and how damaging?
What does it mean, to be “responsible”? Am I the cause? Perhaps. Can I be the cure? To some degree, yes. There is nothing in dogmatic libertarianism that requires this of me, but there is something to achieving liberty that makes it my responsibility.
I am responsible.
Returning to the lyrics, the Golden Rule:
You're smart enough for me to trust go live your life now
Just keep these steps in your life and you'll know how
If you're not sure, ask yourself,
"Have I done to them as I would have them do to me?"
I find myself in a real struggle these days – feeling quite torn regarding those on the other side of the current mask-distance-jab narrative. In other words, those who have fully bought into the current narrative. These are my enemies, as sure as anyone has ever been my enemy. But I am told to love my enemy.
Yet, if loving my neighbor (starting with my family) and loving my enemy come into conflict, my neighbor will always win. I then consider that some enemies are not as much of an enemy as others – those who were close family and friends prior to this madness; it is this group that I hope to be able to love, but am not sure that I can.
Then there are the others – I am a long way away from feeling any love toward these, let alone showing any love. For now…if they will leave me alone, I will leave them alone. If anything more is to be achieved in my life, I will leave this in God’s hands.
After the album on which The Shattered Fortress appeared was released, Mike Portnoy and Dream Theater split. Portnoy wanted a break; the rest of the band did not. Perhaps a hint is offered: another song on this same album, The Best of Times, captures Portnoy’s emotions on the passing of his father; perhaps he needed some time to reflect. In any case, the band spilt. Mike Mangini was brought in as the replacement.
Mangini is an excellent drummer, but he isn’t Portnoy. I am not speaking about technical ability – I am not really qualified to do so. It’s just that Portnoy drives, and Mangini is along for the ride. Both are technically supreme; Portnoy also play with emotion – he moves the band, and he moves the audience.
The musicians of Dream Theater challenge my musicianship like no other band I have heard – with maybe the exception of Rush.
- Classical Composer Reacts to Octavarium (Dream Theater) | The Daily Doug (Episode 134)
I agree – as long as it is Dream Theater with Mike Portnoy on the drums (I also agree with the Rush part).