July 18th, 2012 by Darin
Fig. 1: self at 15--full regalia!
For anyone who’s read Noise, it’s probably pretty clear that I was a Boy Scout—my main character categorizes his new, apocalyptic world with his own mythified memories of Scouting and adolescence to a degree that would have been difficult to fake.
In fact, I’m an Eagle Scout—the highest rank in Scouting one can achieve, and few do. Not everyone knows the distinction, but the Eagle Scout award represents the collected achievements in leadership, community service, self realization, and practical survival skills that represent the total throughput of a young man’s Scouting career. It’s a difficult award for an adolescent to achieve, especially since most earn it around the time they’re trying to fit in at high school, when it’s not particularly cool to weave lanyards and wear knee socks. In earlier days, most people knew what the Eagle Award represented: a particular young man with sticking power, gumption, and discipline. These days, there’s less awareness as the gleam of the modern age has come to outshine that medal, which, each year, looks a little smaller.
A fair degree of the ethos I live by today is informed by my time in the Scouts. I owe what success I’ve achieved and what respect I’ve earned to those years, to that award. Trustworthiness and helpfulness are among the attributes that I hold most dear. I judge others by whether or not they become liabilities in social situations, and despite my curmudgeonly exterior, I help others when I can. I know that good leaders are good followers, and I perform moral deeds for the sake of performing them—I took a sense of personal moral responsibility from the Scouts, not any religiously defined obligation.
I’d imagine I’m not a typical cross-section of your average grown Eagle Scout. As I moved into adulthood, I embraced liberal politics. I spent a lot of time in postgraduate school, earning degrees in literature and literary theory rather than applying my Eagle skills as a civic servant or outdoorsman (which is a common track for the grown Eagle). I’m an atheist, a science fiction fan, and a great lover of spirits. But, that said, my Eagle Scout award is to this day every bit as legitimate and representative as anyone else’s. Because I’ve cherished what I learned during those days, because I think discipline and respect and determination can change a young man’s life, because I think the Scouts can be better, so much better—because of all this, I’m embarrassed and ashamed by the BSA’s recent reaffirmation of their programmatic bigotry. It cheapens the integrity of those of us who still espouse the core tenets of Scouting, and it dirties the memory of the men—those giants, those scoutmasters and fathers and neighbors—who taught us how to be decent and responsible people. Who taught us how to be good men.
Let me share with you the Scout Law (U.S. version), which are the rules a scout lives by, the rules that teach him how to be a man. Most of these, I still try to practice on a daily basis. Once you memorize them, you never forget.
A Scout is trustworthy, loyal, helpful, friendly, courteous, kind, obedient, cheerful, thrifty, brave, clean, and reverent.
But endorsing an ideology of intolerance is not helpful. It’s not friendly or courteous or kind. It’s not cheerful, or thrifty, or loyal. It might be trustworthy in its steadfast bigotry, and I don’t think it’s particularly reverent since we disregard most Levitical and Old Testament law anyway.
But, worst of all, it’s not brave. That’s the hardest one for a young man to learn, to practice. And the BSA has shown its boys that inequality is okay—that they’ll be brave when it’s easier.
Maybe there aren’t enough Eagle Scouts on that Board.