The Home of Steven Barnes
Author, Teacher, Screenwriter


Tuesday, May 05, 2009

Talk is Cheap. War is expensive.

1) I say it's better to talk to enemies or opposition. Mentioning cases in which it apparently didn't help doesn't change that. Since there are many cases in which negotiation or conversation (communication) DID help, that's a positive. Those in which it DIDN'T help are a zero. The average result? Positive, unless you can identify cases in which conversation HURT. Since you can't possibly know what the outcome will be until after the conversation, I maintain that the best policy is communication. Communication between leaders, even during war, can help minimize casualties. And there is an entire type of person who plays the game "let's you and him fight" where for their own reasons, they will carry corrupt messages back and forth, or deliberately lie about the intentions of the other side, because it profits them for there to be war and conflict. I see no downside to communicating.

2) Frank, I didn't mean to be slippery, but I can see what you mean. Here's my contention: people who think we shouldn't talk to the other side ARE MORE LIKELY to believe that the people on the other side simply are "different" from us, usually in a way that is inferior. Yes, it is possible to believe someone is equal, but unreachable. But just because someone else says that the opponent's logical foundation is immovable and irreconcilable doesn't mean it is. It might well mean that they are merely as inflexible as the other side. I can't even count the number of times side "A" has said: It's "Heads!" while side "B" screams "it's Tails!" and I managed to say, "wait a minute, it's a half-dollar!" A major fallacy I've seen my whole life is that if someone can't see an answer, they often believe one doesn't exist. Or more specifically, that the limits of their perception are the limits of possibility. Arthur Clarke had a saying something like: "when a distinguished and elderly scientist says something is impossible, he is most likely wrong." The capacity to resolve apparent dualities to find a new option is a mode of thought I've prized all my life. And I see no practical limits to it, unless the other side is actually deranged. The right Jew might very well have been able to negotiate immigration for the Jewish community rather than extermination, even though co-existence might have been out of reach. In retrospect, I'm sure a LOT of Nazis thought "we should have just let them go." While not an ideal solution, it might have been a better deal for both sides.

People often take what seems the best option, but under fear and stress, develop tunnel vision and only see a fraction of the options available to them. Unless you can mention a shit-load of cases where the situation was WORSE because people engaged in polite communication (yes, I'm qualifying that, assuming that our communicators are actually skilled), then I have to think that the net result is positive.

Note, for instance, that merely the insistence upon polite discourse has made this site a place where people of opposing views can express themselves without being attacked personally (usually). Just a tiny tiny example of what I'm talking about. I just don't believe that human beings are that different. I believe that by far, most of the sane ones want the same thing (and even most of the unsane ones--their mechanisms are just too screwed up to function right.)

Convince someone that their behavior is likely to end with their own children and grandchildren exterminated, and you usually have their attention. Give them a way to surrender with honor, or negotiate with dignity, and most people will at least open themselves to discussion.

There is a Bell Curve of human ability, and the ability to create rapport, read expressions, find common ground and so forth is just as open to genius as any other. I'm no genius at it, but I've completely lost track of the number of times I was told a group or individual was beyond discussion--only to discover that the person saying that had a hidden agenda, or just wasn't good at reading/communicating. They then assumed that they WERE (like everyone thinks they're a better driver/lover than average. Can't make your girlfriend come? Why, it's HER problem!) and can't believe that maybe, just maybe, they have blinders on. Unless you can demonstrate lotsa cases where it was a NEGATIVE value to communicate, I have to repeat that the net result is positive, and we should always go for it.

And yes, I think there is overlap between the assumption that the other is "different" and the group that thinks that that difference is inferior. The group that thinks that, say gays aren't worthy of marriage and the group that thinks blacks aren't worthy, period. The group that thinks that Islam is evil, and those who think Arab extremists or leaders cannot and should not be talked to. Yes, I absolutely believe that the TENDENCY to believe in differing value between groups is related to the tendency to racism, sexism, homophobia, cultural eliteism, and so forth. Now, I've never met a person who didn't believe that there were differences--but there is, again, a Bell Curve with this. As I've said before, I think that the "disease" of the Right is too MUCH of this, and the "disease" of the Left is too LITTLE of it. Too much cultural relativism: "everything is o.k."

I would bet anything that if you surveyed the group that believes we should not speak to our opponents/enemies, you would find a disproportionate number of those who disagree with gay marriage, opposed civil rights, a woman's right to choose, and think Islam is evil. Not that every member of that group believes those things, but if anyone can find stats demonstrating I'm wrong, I'd love to see them, I really would. In other words, some people just have more of the "we're right and good, they're wrong and bad" voice in their heads, and that voice looks for opportunities.

For instance: anyone who thinks that Liberals or Conservatives are inferior, stupid, blind, etc. is falling neatly into that category. And that's damned near anyone who is seriously politicized. The tendency is a survival trait in one context, and the source of a fantastic amount of human misery in others. I like the middle range far better. And from the middle, it looks like a damned good idea to talk.

Or to put it simpler: I am having a VERY difficult time thinking of cases in which I would be worse off for having spoken to someone. At the age of 57, I've yet to have a single instance of that, and I've dealt with violent criminals and the insane. And unless the number of cases where it was WORSE to have spoken to the opposition outnumbered those in which value was produced. The logical answer is to speak whenever possible, but expect the opposition to do everything possible to twist the discussions to their own end--much like you're doing. The difficulty with "Crazymakers" isn't listening or speaking to them--it is accepting their map of reality, or value structure in place of your own. THAT is indeed a problem. But it's a problem awake adult human beings shouldn't have.

What's the fear? That the opposition will learn more about you than you will about them? That they will convince you of their point of view more effectively than you will convince them of yours? But isn't that the risk in any conflict? Isn't it better to work this out with words rather than bombs? To lose at the negotiation table rather than on the battlefield? Either you have confidence in your people, or you don't.

Unless...there is some benefit that accrues from NOT understanding the other person's point of view. If I want an oil pipeline, and can convince the American public that the opposition to our presence in a given region is based on religious extremism, and not the fact that, oh, say Halliburton assassinated a group of local chiefs, it makes damned good sense to keep our people from ever talking to theirs. But what possible downside is there to communication? Worst case scenario seems to be that you get nothing. Best case is that you stop a war. No comparison.


28 comments:

Anonymous said...

Living and working where I do most of my acquaintances tend to run from liberal to more liberal. Many times over the past years I would have liked to talk with a conservative to find where it was we began to diverge towards our respective opposite positions.
Alas one of the few I know, a friends's father, would always respond as if he were auditioning to be a shouting head. He would loudly yammer a question such as "Can't you think for yourself" in a tight loop and never pause to actually get a reply. Such experiences lose their novelty very quickly.
I certainly agree with talking to the opposition as a matter of principle but sometimes one just runs out of energy.

Gene the Unpronounceable

Marty S said...

Steve: There have been many cases in history where talking has hurt. Talking does not accomplish anything unless the two sides reach some agreement on whatever they are discussing. If one side goes away from a discussion and acts on the agreement reached and the other side never intended to honor their part of the agreement and takes advantage of the side which did follow the agreement then that side ends up paying the penalty.
Suppose there is Muslim country, which we are enemies with. Suppose further that I believe given the nature and agenda of the current leaders of that country I would choose not to talk/negotiate with them at this time. Now suppose that this country was struck by the swine flu or some other epidemic. I would be fully in favor of offering medical aid to said country, because it would save innocent lives and might engender a change in relations, but would have no real probability of backfiring on us.

Anonymous said...

"Worst case scenario seems to be that you get nothing. Best case is that you stop a war."

Historically in the 1930s, the worst case scenario for Britain was that it not only got a war, it got a war after having thrown away every advantage that it might have used to wage and win that war quickly and without bloodshed.

By 1938, Winston Churchill had long been able to see that. (He was pretty high up on the "let's not appease Hitler" bell curve of human ability.) Unfortunately, he got overruled by Neville Chamberlain and most of his countrymen. The immediate cost was that the Sudetenland was first given away to Hitler, and shortly thereafter, all of Czechoslovakia. The subsequent cost was that tens of millions of people died, including six million Jews in the Holocaust, Europe was bombed flat, and half of Europe ended up under Soviet rule for half a century.

I'd say that particular instance of talk rather than war had a pretty large downside.

And yes, not EVERY instance of talking to one's enemies will be a Munich. But you're making a confident generalization that talk never has high costs; I'm pointing out a rather glaring historical instance where the costs were enormous.

As George Orwell put it in 1941: "Underneath this lies the hard fact, so difficult for many people to face, that individual salvation is not possible, that the choice before human beings is not, as a rule, between good and evil but between two evils. You can let the Nazis rule the world; that is evil; or you can overcome them by war, which is also evil. There is no other choice before you, and whichever you choose you will not come out with clean hands."


--Erich Schwarz

Mike Ralls said...

I'm a pretty conservative guy, but I actually don't have a problem with talking to your enemies. Hell, I largely regard war as communication by other means. Straight up talking as equals _does_ give your enemies a little extra legitimacy, but on such a small scale that I don't really think it's worth worrying about.

That being said;

>I believe that by far, most of the sane ones want the same thing (and even most of the unsane ones--their mechanisms are just too screwed up to function right.)<

(Previous post)

>This is why Sting's song about "if the Russians love their children too" was so important.<

You know, the problem was never that we didn't know that the Russians loved their children. The problem was that the Russians lived under a system in which a small group of believers had totalitarian control over a country with thousands of nuclear weapons aimed at us. We talked to them for decades, generations even. There was a long standing dialog between our two countries, but right up until the 1980's multiple times they came close to nuking us out of the blue because the guys at the top were disconnected from reality.

But maybe all those talks and all those efforts at dialog during the Cold War paid off big time, because some of the guys a few rungs from the top were better connected to reality;

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stanislav_Petrov

Mike Ralls said...

>The right Jew might very well have been able to negotiate immigration for the Jewish community rather than extermination<

Alternate History is not falsifiable, but I don't see that happening in any TL with Hitler in charge and a WWII. It's not as unrealisitc as having the right black be able to negotiate emigration instead of slavery in 1830 (because you are talking about convincing one guy instead of millions) but it sounds impossible with Hitler in charge to me.

The Jews were allowed to emigrate (for a price) in the early years of the Nazi regime, but no country wanted them (this a huge key point and I don't see any negotiating changing this, "We're valuable workers who will be loyal to any regime that doesn't oppress us!" - "You're aliens, weird, our people by and large just don't like you, and we have far more workers than we know what to do with because there is a depression going on.") and then the war fully closed down the borders.

Hitler regarded the Jews as secular demons, infecting the soul of the world, so he thought the extermination of the Jews as a good _in and of itself_. Emigration was probably the least bad option to him in the early years ("What if they come back in a century or two?") and he probably would have liked to exterminate them from the beginning, but it wasn't until the war that it was politically feasible. Making Europe "Juden-free" was one of his major goals in life, up their with having Germany become the dominant power in Europe, both were worthless without the other.

I just don't think you can reason someone out of something they were never reasoned into.

Mike Ralls said...

Hey Steve,

You'll probably like this video on race in the gaming community. It doesn't say anything that you haven't said about movies, but it's well done and presented in a rather interesting and funny manner;

"Staring Captain America! Wolverine! Spider-man! And The Black Guy!"

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DhopxZqQrmo&feature=channel_page

Nancy Lebovitz said...

A little peripheral to the issue, but how do you talk in a non-escalating way to people you're very angry at without using ferocious emotional repression?

Especially on-line, I can go from "You mother-fucking piece of SHIIIIT!!!!!" (in some cases, yelled at the screen) to "Now, what exactly do you mean by that?" (typed) in under a minute. I may well move the discussion forward in a useful way, but it doesn't feel good, and I suspect it isn't good for me.

Or maybe it isn't peripheral, if one of the reasons people escalate fights is that they don't have alternatives that feel good to them.

Dan Moran said...

>I'd say that particular instance
>of talk rather than war had a
>pretty large downside.

I don't agree with this, unsurprisingly. Talk and war are not incompatible. The error with Hitler wasn't talking; it was failing to go to war earlier. The two are not tightly coupled.

AF1 said...

Yeah, appeasement is not the same thing as talking to your enemy.

Anonymous said...

Dan Moran wrote:

"Talk and war are not incompatible."

Yes, and I said that very thing explicitly:

"... yes, not EVERY instance of talking to one's enemies will be a Munich. But you're making a confident generalization that talk never has high costs; I'm pointing out a rather glaring historical instance where the costs were enormous."

In this rather prominent instance, I'd say the historical record shows that talk and war were treated as incompatible -- not surprisingly, since the people most anxious to keep talking were the ones most frightened of the prospect of war.

It's an error that might be made by decent people. But, still, an error. A really, really costly error.

"The error with Hitler wasn't talking; it was failing to go to war earlier."

Winston Churchill would have agreed in 1938, but he got called "warmonger" for his pains. Which was more or less my point.

Before assuming that talk never has horrible costs, we have to be pretty elastic about the definition of "talk" -- in fact, we have to stretch it to the point that it practically means "be a smart neocon". Which I'm fine with, but which I am not sure everybody else be...


--Erich Schwarz

Dan Moran said...

Erich, you and I are looking at the same events and coming to different lessons. No matter how you phrase it, the lesson I take from Chamberlain isn't that he talked, but that he didn't fight. You want to say that Chamberlain treated talk as a substitute for war? OK, I'll agree with that. But you haven't said that misjudging when to talk is the problem, but that talk itself is. I disagree with that.

More specifically, to move back into the present day, the idea that Obama shouldn't talk to Iran or North Korea strikes me as foolish neocon ideology. North Korea in particular built nukes while Bush was busy not talking to them. (Built nukes during Reagan/Bush, built nukes during Bush 43. Not on Clinton's watch, though.)

Anonymous said...

"But you haven't said that misjudging when to talk is the problem, but that talk itself is."

What I've said is that making the choice to talk rather than fight has -- in one instance that even you agree with -- had horrendous costs.

So, since we agree that talking rather than fighting can, on some occasions, have an absolutely hideous downside, can we also agree that this claim of Steve's:

"Worst case scenario seems to be that you get nothing. Best case is that you stop a war."

which I was originally responding to, is (unfortunately) wrong?


--Erich Schwarz

Anonymous said...

"Not on Clinton's watch, though."

At best this is half-true. North Korea retained its stockpiles of plutonium and actively solicited technology for nuclear weapons from Pakistan from 1997 onward -- four years before Bush's Presidency was even a gleam in the Supreme Court's eye.

There's no evidence that Clinton even slowed this process, let alone that he stopped or reversed it.


--Erich Schwarz

Shady_Grady said...

I think it is always 1938 at Munich for people of an interventionist persuasion.

I think talking to enemies is not always a bad thing to do, especially if it gives you time to prepare for an inevitable conflict.

I think that often people don't want to talk because they feel that doing so implicitly recognizes the other person might have a point, which they can't admit.

As far as Hitler and WW2 goes, Patrick Buchanan has some interesting columns, where on pretty explicit utilitarian grounds he makes a strong case against WW2 as a good war or one that was necessary.


The Good War?March MadnessI think his motives are suspect and the analysis is somewhat shaky but the arguments do need to be addressed.

There are some instances where talking to adversaries is a waste of time. I think these aren't as common as some folks may think.

Marty S said...

I don't think anybody has said don't talk to anyone anytime. The position, I and others of my viewpoint is that it is just as silly to take the position I will talk to anyone any where, any time. I could be wrong, but, I would make the hierarchical decision, that sitting down and talking with men who run around in white robes, burn down black churches, and hang black people, for the purpose of convincing them that blacks are real nice people just like us would be a waste of time.

Steven Barnes said...

1) If Hitler couldn't be spoken with, attempting to reach out to some of those around him to see about eliminating him might have worked. If not, there is always war--and no one said not to prepare for it as your communicators talk.
2) I absolutely believe that discussions between civil rights advocates and those who opposed their rights were useful. Sometimes in exposing mad dogs, and other times in building what rapport was possible.
3) Communicating with people you are angry with demands that you deal with your fear--which always underlies the anger. Remove the fear, and what remains is just information. If you are too angry to speak, you are easily manipulated into making mistakes in a street fight, ring, or battlefield. It is the cold, surgical opponent who is in charge of his emotions who will kill you most efficiently.
4) I agree with Dan. It wasn't that Chamberlain talked. It was that he wasn't willing to fight. There is an enormous difference.

Steven Barnes said...

The only reason I can think of not to speak to an opponent is fear that he will see how weak you are. In which case, you've lost already. If you are strong, prepared to die for what you believe in, why in the world hesitate to speak to anyone, at any time? Because they might lie? WTF? You go in KNOWING they are probably going to lie, and looking to understand the types of lies they tell. This might just be a major reality shift difference between us, and I honestly feel this attitude doesn't work for individuals (not communicating with your own emotions), families or friends, or nations. It is a straight-up recipe for disaster and endless war. Thousands of years of communication between nations suggests a syntax of diplomacy before battle, and only if diplomacy breaks down. Prepare for war? Of course. But never forget that there are forces within society that want war at any price, just as there are those who want peace at any price. You have to walk between the extremes.

Mike Ralls said...

>If Hitler couldn't be spoken with, attempting to reach out to some of those around him to see about eliminating him might have worked.<

The short answer to this is that no one in a position of power in Germany in the early 1940's cared enough about the Jews to eliminate Hitler over his treatment of them. Hitler was an incredibly popular ruler who was very secure in his position throughout most of his reign because he moved his country from victory to victory all throughout the 1933 to 1942 period. The historical evidence shows that only a few people in positions of power were willing to move against him and that wasn't until the 1944-1945 period, and that was only when Germany was in truly desperate straights. They cared about what he was doing to Germany, not to people they considered outsiders. Hitler held on to power while Germany's cities were bombed to ruble, millions of German soldiers were killed, millions of German civilians in Eastern Europe (who had lived there for hundreds of years) were driven from their homes, and virtually all his country was conquered by the Allies and the Soviets except for a few bombed out city blocks in Berlin. If he could do that, expecting to find people who would be willing to risk their own precious necks over an unpopular minority is not very realistic.

>I absolutely believe that discussions between civil rights advocates and those who opposed their rights were useful.<

I agree with that, but I specifically referred to the slavery era, not the civil rights era.

Nancy Lebovitz said...

The right Jew might very well have been able to negotiate immigration for the Jewish community rather than extermination.I'm not an expert on the history, but it's hard for me to imagine how that could have worked. Aside from the difficulties of finding countries which would have accepted the Jews, I'm not sure what leverage Jews had to offer-- the Nazis were able to steal everything the Jews had, and no one was exactly lining up to offer to ransom them.

My fantasy of something possibly working is based on recruiting enough non-Jewish Germans (the Nazi government sometimes bent when Germans, especially Berliners, protested) to apply pressure.

Steve, do you think a sufficiently skilled negotiator could make a successful movie in which a black man has an explicit sex scene happen? All you seem to be able to imagine is waiting for the older generation of bigoted white men to die off, and anti-black racism in the US never reached the intensity of Nazi anti-Semitism.

On the other hand, negotiating to be allowed to leave is at least something dependent on a single decision.

One other aspect of "should you always negotiate?" is that there's something a little sickening about treating whether you should be allowed to live as a legitimate question, but I suppose making the try is better than just letting people kill you, supposing they're willing to talk at that point.

Dal Jeanis said...

If you can't identify cases in which talking did hurt, then you dont know any history at all. Look at pre-WWII Neville Chamberlain for an example. Ah, I see that has been brought up already.

Talking when you should be acting is deadly.

Talking to pretend that you are acting is also dangerous.

Steven Barnes said The only reason I can think of not to speak to an opponent is fear that he will see how weak you are. Honestly, that's the only reason you can come up with? Wow. I thought from reading your stuff you had a better mind than that.

1) Talking is a net negative when it gives your opponent publicity or legitimacy or materiel that it would not have without the talk, and when the talk gains you nothing else.

2) Talking is a net negative when not talking can achieve a higher, bigger or more necessary objective. (If you can't imagine one, then your imagination is at fault, not my point.)

3) Talking is a net negative when the opponent is known to lie, has a policy of lying to achieve temporary objectives, and has murderous long-term objectives that it cannot truly abandon.

4) Talking is a net negative when it costs ANY resources and achieves nothing. Those resources would be better used elsewhere.

Anonymous said...

"right up until the 1980's multiple times they came close to nuking us out of the blue because the guys at the top were disconnected from reality.:

Mike Ralls: It's arguable that a small group at the top DID become disconnected from reality in the early 80's - the Reagan Administration. Conversely, the paranoid Politburo mentality of the times was arguably "rational", given American bellicosity. During Reagan's first term, war-frenzied Reagan appointee nutjots such as Thomas K. Jones (see Sheer's With Enough Shovels) openly announced the "Winnability" and "Survivability" of nuclear war as official US policy. During his same period, Reagan hyper-escalated the Arms Race, scrapping nascent treaties and funding nearly every weapons system on the boards. One might ask , given the PRO-nuclear war vision that appeared to captivate the early Reagan White House, might not the hyper-alert stance of the Andropov- Chernenko Kremlin be judged rational?

Ethiopian Infidel

Steven Barnes said...

1)"the wise man learns more from speaking to the fool than the fool does from speaking to the wise man." I've never seen an instance when speaking to someone didn't teach me something--even if it was just the nature of the lies told, and the person's "tells."
2) From the beginning of Nazi Germany, there were Germans who wanted to stop Hitler. Some of them were in his circle. On determining that Hitler was beyond communication, seeking those who might successfully assassinate or depose him, and come into alignment with American goals, would have been desirable. I believe that our intelligence agencies have used this approach many times.
3) Interesting how people say "negotiate" when I mostly said "talk to." Also, you make the grievous mistake of assuming that you can't talk while preparing for, or waging war. What's wrong, folks? Surely we can talk and chew gum at the same time.

Steven Barnes said...

A skilled negotiator making a successful movie in which a black man has an explicit sex scene?
1) Who said anything about explicit? I've repeatedly reminded you guys that every PG or PG-13 Bond movie has a love scene/sex scene. Nothing explicit about it. It's interesting that people so often leap to this extreme. I wonder why?
2) I really don't understand what the "negotiator" would have to do with creating such a movie. Who would he be negotiating with? I can convince a single person to go see a movie, sure. I might be able to convince a studio to make it. But how do you "negotiate" with the American public? Making and releasing a movie is vastly different from having the public embrace it. I literally don't know what a negotiator could do.

Steven Barnes said...

Slavery ended, in part, because people DID talk. There were underground railroads, anti-slavery movements, all sorts of things. If blacks had viewed all whites as "the enemy" (a perfectly reasonable perspective, even if I don't hold it) things would have been far worse. Blacks had many, many allies, even in the south, and talk between individual human beings made a gigantic difference.

Steven Barnes said...

Saying that if I don't agree with you I must "know no history at all" is just trying to insult me. If I don't read an historical incident as you do, I'm just wrong. Right. No room for interpretation there! So you think there are no history teachers who believe that communication is incredibly valuable? And if they disagree with you, you just think "Oh! This person is ignorant, or a fool!" That tells me a great deal about you, friend.

Nancy Lebovitz said...

Quoting myself here:
One other aspect of "should you always negotiate?" is that there's something a little sickening about treating whether you should be allowed to live as a legitimate question, but I suppose making the try is better than just letting people kill you, supposing they're willing to talk at that point.Gaah. After I posted that, I realized I was displaying a really depressing lack of energy and gusto. If you think it will help, of course you negotiate for your life.

Somewhat reassuring on that front (and I'm in better shape this morning)-- Ruthy Alon's Mindful Spontaneity, which says that the "everything is too much work" state can be produced by using effort inappropriately and then believing that the solution is to try harder.

In re "explicit sex scene": I'm probably misremembering the times you wrote about people who try to move the conversation to less satisfactory versions of sex scenes of some sort for black male actors. Or not realizing what you meant (I don't track sex scenes that carefully) when you said that you wanted the sex scenes to be as explicit as the ones for white male actors.

Marty S said...

Steve: I decide to talk to my enemy. When I go to this meeting do I have a goal?. Does my enemy have a goal? Do I believe there is actually common ground we can agree on? If nobody has any goals and there is no common ground we can agree on then there is nothing to be lost by talking except possibly time if there were some other action you are contemplating. However, I don't see much to be gained either. If you both go with goal however, then you are negotiating. The existence of common ground implies a meeting of minds where both sides give a little. This can be good or it can hurt as some of the historical examples have shown. To me every action, including talking to the enemy has an upside and a down side. Therefore before taking any action one should preform an analysis of what the possible upside is and the probability of obtaining it and against the possible downside and its associated risk.
I guess I look at all these things somewhat from a mathematical point of view, but that is my bent.

Mike Ralls said...

>Blacks had many, many allies, even in the south, <

My readings of the antebellum period make me think that abolitionists in the South were like Communists in America in the 1950's, they existed but were a tiny minority with very little actual power or ability to affect things.

But again, I don't really disagree with you main point that a policy of "Never talk to your enemies, ever" is counterproductive, I just think that you shouldn't expect very much from it. It's usually a bone toss, essentially.