The Home of Steven Barnes
Author, Teacher, Screenwriter


Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Absolutist thinking and peer pressure

"I think I've been comfortable, perhaps too comfortable, with ignoring what other people wanted me to be and being what I wanted (on some level anyway) me to be. But what about you? Do you think removing yourself to a peer vacuum has a dramatic change on most people? Allowing them to better be who they want to be?"
Certainly my opinion. Part of the reason I wanted to move away from Los Angeles 15 years ago was the belief that I would never know who I was unless I separated context from content.
##
The argument about a "strong man" and an artificial nation can ABSOLUTELY be applied to various African colonial states. And if, for instance, in South Africa the vote had been offered to any black African who, say, had a bachelor's degree...and then made the road to getting such a degree smooth and open for anyone with the ability to earn one, I would have believed that that society would evolve into something perfectly fine, over generations. But the maintenance of power in such a colonial situation demands the infantilization and brainwashing of the populace. Just as there were disadvantages to the end of segregation: black neighborhoods which at one time had vertical integration (doctors, lawyers and gardeners lived in the same neighborhoods) were destroyed when the higher-income blacks had the ability to move away. The neighborhoods often collapsed. Did that mean that integration was bad? No, it means that when you perform an operation to remove shrapnel, the patient bleeds.

Having an outside oppressor draw national boundaries through centuries-old tribal lines creates the potential for vast havoc. Combine this with the standard tactic of playing one group against another means that, if the oppressor ever leaves, blood will run in the streets. Thus, the oppressive force gets to take credit for "stopping" a situation that they themselves created! It is my believe that life tends to organize itself at higher and higher levels of complexity. That the EU--in its current form, or some future form, is simply the destiny of Europe, just as some kind of world-wide unity is inevitable for mankind. Maybe not in our generation, but that as soon as people start trading and talkign to each other, marrying each other's children, they discover they have far more in common than they thought. Nations, in my mind, are dinosaurs and I would expect that in four or five generations the difference between America and say Japan won't be much more than the current difference between California and New York.
##
When I say that absolutist positions are the root cause of wars, I meant that a strongly held position, combined with the belief that it not only MUST BE TRUTH but that that truth is self-evident, is the root cause of war. So, no, this is not an absolutist position on my part. I neither think it "must be true" nor than others must know it's true unless they are stupid. It is an opinion I think valid, but I know I could well be wrong.
##
Back to Iraq: IF it was created by the British (and I'm too lazy to check Wikipedia this morning) then there is a very good chance that it was created not because the people living within that territory had common interests, but because it fit the economic or political needs of the Brits. Remove them, and there is nothing organic holding it together, and no real reason for those people to cling to an artificial construct that had nothing to do with their self-interest. Human beings have been struggling to join together for a very long time. People fight, make up, take each other's territory, marry across tribal lines, form societies. They don't need us. Africa didn't need Europe to conquer it--trade relations would have accomplished the same advances, in time. Iraq doesn't need America, and I think there is a kind of bizarre reverse-racist condescension in thinking they do. It's a bit of the "White Man's Burden" thinking. I'm quite sure that every group in history that has ever expanded its borders or economic influence has thought this a "good thing." The cute trick is to say "it's a good thing for the other guy...even if he doesn't want it." Wow. Once you have that attitude, you could justify breaking into a neighbor's house because you don't like the way he slaps his kids. Kill daddy, then demand that the family pay you for the unrequested killing. Once you believe you are right, and have such privilege, any level of greed can be justified. There is ALWAYS a justification for doing what you wanted to do anyway.
Be very, very careful of self-interest masquerading as altruism.
##
Are liberals more likely than conservatives to think that Iraq "can't handle" demcracy? That might be accurate. But I haven't heard them saying that Iraqis are incapable of it, just that the social institutions that permit democracy can't be created at will, under pressure, during an occupation. In drawing a parallel with Japan, they point out that Japan was infinitely more internally integrated and unified. Every Japanese considered themselves related to the Emperor. When the Emperor told the Japanese people to surrender and submit to occupation, the internal, hierarchical structure was shaken, but held. But Japan, created by centuries of INTERNAL war, is different from a nation created by EXTERNAL pressure. Japanese were being dominated by other Japanese. In my experience, people accept domination by those who look like them much more sanguinely than they do domination by "others." And that is something that those "others" seem to have a terrible time understandign. Why? I think it's because EVERYONE thinks that they're they best, and closest to God. So if we dominate someone, hey, shouldn't they be grateful? I mean, we're the wonderful, golden people! They should suck up our culture, buy our products, work for us at our rates, worship our god, and be happy to let us screw their women. Shouldn't they..?

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