The Feast of Tabernacles of 1994 was my worst feast ever. I spent half of the feast in my hotel room puking into a basin and unable to keep any food down, which will sour my mood anytime. When I was well enough to go to services, the messages (with a couple of exceptions) were lacking in spirit and fire, which put me in notice that something ominous was going on, an intuition that ended up being very accurate only a few months later. But the memory that stands out to me is when on the last day of the Feast of Tabernacles, in the afternoon services, as I sat still somewhat nauseous in my seat, I heard the smarmy chumminess of the speaker concerning the sort of prize that was to be given for a successful feast. There had apparently been talk of providing a leg of lamb to everyone (I would have liked that, given my ravenous hunger after days of not being able to eat), but it was judged too expensive to serve the commonfolk in such a fashion, and so some sort of plaque was given to the people responsible for organizing the event by the city of Niagara Falls.
What is so insufferable about the chumminess of insiders? As I write this, I am listening to a birthday celebration for the Navy that is going on in Washington DC. I happen to be a supporter of the Naval Heritage Society, for whom I have reviewed dozens of books and even given one public speech. This whole event has been one from the beginning one insufferable speech after another. These political and military elites have been patting each other on the back, talking about themselves, bragging about their power, pandering to political groups, and the like. One wonders who the real audience of such speaking this is, as they cannot stand to talk about the lengthy history of our navy without seeking to beg for more money or puffing themselves up.
I happen to love inside jokes, when I am on the inside. To get an inside joke is to recognize that one is as part of a group of people that shares certain experiences and certain language. That is a powerful drive to unity, in that it makes a clear divide between who is in and who is out. Human beings need to do that, for some reason, because we cannot bear to share such privileges we possess in terms of access and power with a large group of people, and we do not always want to be understood by others who may not view what we do and think and believe with a high degree of sympathy. The use of jargon and coded language and inside jokes and references makes it possible for us to be heard and understood only by those who share enough background knowledge and experience that they are far more likely to be on our side than against us, not least because of the gratification of their vanity by being on the inside.
It can often be a painful and uncomfortable thing to recognize that one is on the outside and to witness what is going on by insiders, to be aware of inside jokes and people who are formal opponents but informal friends and chums, all competing parts of the same inner ring (as C.S. Lewis termed it). Those who are on the outside are often painfully aware that there is an inside and that they are not part of it, which tends to increase the resentment that can be found within institutions and societies. But, all too often, those on the inside do their best to forget that there is an outside, as their interactions and efforts and communication are only focused on those others who happen to be on the inside. And being that out of touch can have very dangerous consequences indeed.