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Wednesday, October 6, 2010

One size does not fit all/dealing with the forces of darkness and evil

          I am six feet tall and have been fighting a weight problem for most of my adult life.  I learned early that the phrase “one size fits all” was generally not true.  It is also not true in a political sense.  A frequent mistake we all seem to make could be called "overgeneralization", - a form of stereotyping.  It consists of assigning a particular motive, purpose, thought pattern, or goal to a group of people.  The group of people may be liberals, Republicans, African -Americans, Jews, Moslems, members of the Tea Party or whomever.  
           As people, we form groups, political and otherwise.  The truth, however, is that these groups are made up of individuals.  There may or may not be a group leadership, but there is no group "brain".  Individuals may and do share common thoughts, goals, and/or backgrounds, which  may or may not be based on economic status, race, religion, or so on.   Indeed, many overgeneralizations are based on a kernal of truth.  As one example, most African Americans - and most Jews - probably are more liberal politically than the nationwide norm.  But that does not mean that they all are or that they all should be.  Karl Marx wrote that people would always act in accordance with the interests of their own class.  While there seems to be an element of truth in his observation, that is all it is – an element.  We are all individuals.  We all have our own brains, our own thoughts, our own opinions.   
        Moreover, our thoughts and opinions change over time.  Some of my own opinions – on significant issues –  seem to alter (Usually not from "yes" to "no") weekly.  We all tend to learn things as we are exposed to new factors, events and ideas.  At least I certainly hope so.  
          OK, what are some of my complaints about overgeneralization.  The first is that we have a tendency to use it as a club to cajole, shame, marginalize and/or dismiss those of our own group who think differently.  I have heard some African Americans complain that Justice Clarence Thomas is not really "black".  (But he is "black", [or at least a really dark brown].)  Some Jews label others are not as supportive of Israel as they as "self-hating".  Rush Limbaugh accused Colin Powell of not being a "Republican".  (Powell's reply included a comment that he did not know that Mr. Limbaugh was on the membership committee.)
        My second complaint (which ties in more with my later comments about the forces of "Darkness and Evil") is our habit, sometimes with malice aforethought, to brand every member of a group we don't like with the opinions or characteristics of some of its members.  There are members of what is called the Tea Party who are racist.  There are Mexican Immigrants who are illegals.  There are Moslems who are Terrorists.  There are poor African- Americans who are bilking our systems of Government aid.  There are Jews who are greedy, New Yorkers who are pushy, French who are snooty, and so on.   And if we don't like the group, we will point at the worst offenders and say (or at least imply) either "they are all like that", or, more usually and more subtly, "the [insert disliked group name here] is [bad characteristic here]"  This is objectionable not just because it's inaccurate, sloppy and often offensive, but also because it's counterproductive as a means of dealing with those with whom we disagree..
    Let's look at some examples:  1) Moslems, and 2)those who call themselves Social Conservatives [I could use the Tea Party here, but I'll let them off the hook on this one].  Both groups contain elements of what I would seriously define as "forces of Darkness and Evil", by which I mean those who would seek to incite hatred and anger, and to impose (by force if necessary) their view of how other people should act. These "forces of Darkness and Evil" are my enemy.  I really don't like them.  The question is: how do I (or we) deal with what we perceive to be our own those forces of Darkness and Evil.
     Well, that's somewhat obvious. We must start out with the goal of defeating them by either destroying them or making them powerless to harm us [Ha.  Not as much of a liberal wimp as you thought, am I?]   To do so is usually a matter of raising and bringing to bear and sufficiently sustaining adequate political and/or physical force to do the job.  Ok so far?  This, depending on the circumstances, involves hearts, minds and/or guns  and maybe money.   Let's start with the Moslems.  There are 1.2 Billion of them, and they control a lot of resources.  Can we win a real and outright war with them in the long runDoubtful, and certainly to be avoided if possible.  Thus, if all of the Moslems are the enemy, we have a very big problem.  But wait.  The enemy isn't necessarily all Moslems, but a subgroup or groups of Moslems. 
         Here, we come back to my earlier two points: groups are comprised of individuals, and individuals can change their minds.  Now wait, the reader says, you can't compromise with Al Queida.  Nope, probably not.  But if I want to be able to destroy the enemy group, I would like to make it as small and weak as possible.  My view, based on my experience as a parent, a lawyer and everything else, is that the most effective way of getting what you want in an adversarial situation is to use both a "carrot" and a "stick", even if one or both is not spoken of aloud.  
      In other words, it would be a good idea to convince as many Moslems as possible: 1) that we are not their enemy, and that living and working and coexisting with us is to their moral and/or economic benefit (carrot), and  2) that if they join the terrorists we will feed their pulverized bones (and those of their families ) to our pet Guinea Pigs (stick).  [See, wouldn't you find that combination at least somewhat motivating?]  Will this convince suicide bombers?  Probably not, but that is why we have to actually be prepared to use the stick.  But the carrot requires that we be open and willing to engage in discussions with the Islamic world (and its individual members) on issues of common interest if we want to reduce the numbers of terrorists and terrorist sympathizers.  That does not mean agreeing with anyone or giving in on any thing.  We may actually wind up being convinced that a Holy War is inevitable; but I doubt it.  It means talking, listening, and (seriously) trying to understand where the other side is coming from.  In this context, I would recommend "Getting to Yes", a well-known classic about negotiating, and, particularly, its comments about "interest" rather than "positional" analysis.
       Now, exactly how we effectively execute this "carrot and stick" approach can be and is a subject of real debate.  But some of my wingnut conservative friends [Hi, Michael] seem to think that we should not care about how many terrorists we create, because Islam is "warlike" anyway.   OK, maybe if there were only like 8 Moslems in the world, and if Islam were really warlike, but it does not seem like a wise starting point.
        I would add that there may even become a point where we decide it is in our best interests to negotiate with what is now our Enemy. Terrorists?  Yep.  Could happen.  See the IRA and the PLO as examples.  However,  it seems that most terrorists will not come to the negotiating table unless and until they are convinced that it is in their best interests to do so - that they will, otherwise "lose" in some major sense.  And such negotiations would only happen in the event that our own opinions change as well.
        No, I do not see going after the Social Conservatives with unmanned drones-at least in the foreseeable future.  Here, though, I want start with a quote that explains my emnity - from the man who is becoming my favorite source of quotes, Barry Goldwater:
"On religious issues there can be little or no compromise. There is no position on which people are so immovable as their religious beliefs. There is no more powerful ally one can claim in a debate than Jesus Christ, or God, or Allah, or whatever one calls this supreme being. But like any powerful weapon, the use of God's name on one's behalf should be used sparingly. The religious factions that are growing throughout our land are not using their religious clout with wisdom. They are trying to force government leaders into following their position 100 percent. If you disagree with these religious groups on a particular moral issue, they complain, they threaten you with a loss of money or votes or both.
I'm frankly sick and tired of the political preachers across this country telling me as a citizen that if I want to be a moral person, I must believe in "A," "B," "C" and "D." Just who do they think they are? And from where do they presume to claim the right to dictate their moral beliefs to me?And I am even more angry as a legislator who must endure the threats of every religious group who thinks it has some God-granted right to control my vote on every roll call in the Senate. I am warning them today: I will fight them every step of the way if they try to dictate their moral convictions to all Americans in the name of "conservatism." Speech in the US Senate (16 September 1981).
        I actually understand that people are concerned with moral and ethical  behavior and with what they perceive to be the country's gradually becoming more immoral and even decadent.  I actually kind of agree with them, although what I perceive as a loss of moral standards is often (but not always) far different from that of the Social Conservatives.  Where we most strongly differ is that, as I talked about in an earlier Post, I think people should be able to make their own choices and live their own lives.  The Government should not tell them what to do unless necessary.  The Government should even sometimes protect them from their neighbors' trying to enforce certain behavior. 
       Finally, like Barry, I have a real distaste for any justification of a moral position primarily on openly religious grounds.  While it may be true that modern ethics and morals have a largely religious basis, anyone who tells me that I must act a certain way because God or his agent or agents tells me so tempts me to bring out the unmanned drones.
        Wait, you say.  What about the carrot and stick?  Well, I would love to sit down with Social Conservatives and explore possible common ground (and it exists!) on how, as a civil society, we should encourage allegedly responsible people to behave.  Maybe even pass a few laws to create appropriate incentives and disincentives, and eliminate some other laws.  But only if they at least try to leave God (theirs, yours and/or mine or ours) out of the discussion.  The "stick" in this case is political.  I will, and call upon others to, politically oppose and repudiate these people.  If they won't come halfway, I sure won't either.  I may even take some delight in supporting their enemies.  I will do my best to marginalize them as a political force.  In the unfortunate and unlikely event they ever come after me with guns, I'll (assuming I buy a gun myself by then) shoot them.  [My new motto: "Liberals have Second Amendment Rights, too"]
      [As an aside, I do not like what is called "Political Correctness".  I think that, absent coercion, bullying of young people, assault, and legal discrimination in some cases, people have an absolute God-given (I'll let God into this one) right to be stupid and bigoted, even publicly.   My daughter, amused by this view, once pointed out that my own actions and words were usually very "Politically Correct".  Probably true, but it's a different ball game when the Government starts to enforce standards of "decency"- anyone's standards of decency - even mine.]
         One of the interesting things of this political season is that many of those who consider themselves "Social Conservatives" appear to be allying themselves with the idea that Islam - a well established religion which shares certain roots with Judaism and Christianity - is evil.   By doing so, they expose themselves for what they really are.  Like the Terrorists, they are eager to make this (and, apparently, a lot of things) into a religious war.  They stand for hatred and war, not friendship and peace.  My son has a nice view of this.  He says, when faced with a political question concerning Islam, he asks: "What would Osama Bin Laden want me to do?"  Then, my son does the opposite.  Every time some American political or religious figure attacks the proposed Islamic Cultural Center in Manhatten, Osama laughs.
         Sure, destroy the Enemy or at least make him powerless to hurt you, but make sure you know who or what he is.  Enough.

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