"Lost Causes Are The Only Ones Worth Fight For"
After the death of a US senator in the movie Mr. Smith Goes To Washington Mr. Smith (Jimmy Stewart) is appointed to take his place. His hero is the senior Senator from his state, Mr. Paine. But Smith learns that Mr. Paine is supporting corrupt legislation and Smith filibusters to stop the legislation. Near the end of the filibuster, tired and near collapse, Mr. Smith says:
"I guess this is just another lost cause, Mr. Paine. All you people don't know about lost causes. Mr. Paine does. He said once they were the only causes worth fighting for, and he fought for them once, for the only reason that any man ever fights for them."Here's the clip of that scene:
What Exactly Does It Mean?
"Lost causes are the only ones worth fighting for." If might be good rhetoric, but it really doesn't make any sense. It implies that good causes that have a chance of winning aren't worth fighting for. That's clearly not the case. It's a phrase, spoken passionately though, that might sway an unthinking audience
And it wasn't the last word on lost causes in the movie either If you watched the video clip to the end, you heard that Jimmy Stewart didn't stop there. He gives a rule for why you fight lost causes.
". . . for the only reason that any man ever fights for them. Because of just one plain, simple rule, "Love thy neighbor,"
That makes a lot more sense, but again, this is rhetoric. It sounds good. "Love thy neighbor" is a sentiment many will agree with (until they think about the neighbor who leaves his barking dog outside in the cold all day) but is it really the only reason to fight lost causes?
I'm going to end this post here and in a near (I hope) future post, try to come up with a model of lost cause situations. I've already come up with a list of different situations that onlookers might label a lost cause. I'll try to tease out of these examples, a way to evaluate how noble any specific lost cause situation is.
Here are a couple I've thought of so far:
- Searching for a missing child, all leads are cold, and the odds of finding her now are low to nil.
- Fighting an armed battle, grossly outnumbered and outgunned, against an enemy who tortures and kills their captives.
- Refusing to divulge information about your fellow rebels to your torturer.
- Refusing to accept a plea bargain because you know you are innocent, even though there are witnesses who swear they saw you and you’ll get life, when you could bargain for a lighter sentence.
One friend I chatted with about this said I was making this too complicated. It's just about power and the election. That may well be the case. But I hate to jump to conclusions about other people's intentions. And such a model surely will have usefulness in other situations.