Abandoning Incrementalism

With all the recent discussions about technology at the meetings and the RC, I was reminded of a discussion I had many years ago with one of my political science professors at university. We discussed how the American political system had been created by its founders to be built on the notion of incrementalism, that even the greatest accomplishments would have to be made in small steps. While frustrating for those seeking progress, it also preventing the country to get wrapped up in a temporary fervor that would derail the entire nation. Of course, there have been, at least in American history, a number of exceptions to that idea, but in general it has held true. The gradual nature of the change has created significant stability, which has tremendous positive implications both domestically and internationally.

I bring this up because I think that in many ways, the Watchtower has until recently been built on that same approach. Changes are rolled out gradual, maybe a few a year. Doctrines are tweaked; the organization changes some policy. But always are a slow plodding rate. That allows witnesses all over the globe to come to terms with it, often not even noticing. The rate at which changes were made has been relatively consistent over the past few decades.

THAT is why it feels so different this time. It is not the embrace of technology per se that has so many members murmuring and complaining. It is the rate in which it has been adopted. Instead of introducing the app and having a video play once a month, the GB in their infinite wisdom, has decided to take this untested method and crank it up to a nauseating level. We went from no videos whatsoever to, within a few months, multiple videos EACH meeting. We went from articles telling us not to buy tablets because it showed off our wealth and made others jealous, to becoming our primary way we preach in just a few months. We went from warnings about the internet to an almost idolatrous relationship with JW.ORG. So much so, those that haven’t been to a meeting in a year or so have a hard time even grasping how big of a change it is.

I think it is a safe to say that this abandonment of incrementalism is a direct result of GB 2.0. They see declining numbers and widespread discontent and they knew something had to be done. And in some ways, they have been incredibly effective at minimizing the damage. The formation of foreign language congregations hide the decrease in more popular languages. They have moved the goal posts when it comes to witnessing success. Instead of publisher increase, we increasingly talk about how many languages are available on the website. And, as nauseating the videos might be to many of us, most witnesses absolutely love them. And can you blame them? Wouldn’t you rather watch a bunch of short videos at a convention that listen to hour after hour of some boring speaker drone on? It has created a spark of excitement that provides a short term boost in organizational enthusiasm.

But all those benefits are temporary. Videos will very soon become less exciting for a normal witness and will, like talks before them, become another mundane part of their worship. The app and digital publications will become the new norm. Older witnesses will continue to feel alienated and younger ones will eventually be bored by it. The organization reached it zenith in the 1990s and will only continue to spiral into obscurity. But they won’t go down without a fight. The most recent convention saw to that, a clear abandonment of trying to appeal to the wider population and instead a insane play to reinforce existing loyalties. And if recent changes are any indication, they policies and convention themes will only get worse.

But if most of us can agree that the Watchtower is ultimately doomed, what does that demise look like and how long does it take? Some here fantasize about some climatic eruption while other feel it will only slowly faded away. I am no psychic and I don’t have any secret knowledge about the future. In fact, I would be hesitant to believe anyone who claims to know what the future of the WT will look like. No one could have predicted the rate in which long held doctrine, like the generations and the “faithful slave”, would be abandoned. No one could have predicted the rate at which technology and the website have been promoted and embraced. No one could have predicted just how fast printed materials would have been abandoned. With GB 2.0, we can no longer look to the organizational past a predictor for the future changes. They are making adjustments at a rate that is truly unprecedented. And we have no idea what is next.

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