Friday, August 1, 2014

Still an idealist

The definition of an idealist is "a person who is guided more by ideals than by practical considerations."  Although guided by those ideals, I also try to remain aware of practical reality.  In particular, the latest installment of the never-ending conflict in the Middle East puts my ideals to the test.  Yes, that part of the world has been in violent dispute for thousands of years.  Radicals, goaded on by their leaders, employing their personal interpretations of religious faith, have used terrorism, genocide, and war to try to carry out their political ends.  I say "try" because it's pretty evident they've all failed to achieve a stable peace through violence.  It's widely accepted that it's a form of insanity to keep doing the same things over and over again and expect a different outcome.  I'm told by some that it's foolish to hope for the madness that permeates the region (and occasionally spills out on the rest of the world) to end one day, to hope that the warring sects eventually will come to realize the futility of their violence.  Well, my message here is that I just can't give up that hope, even though my understanding of this unreal "reality" is that there's no such hope in the near future.

Vengeance for wrongs committed is poor excuse for violence.  It can't bring back those killed in previous violence, and whatever "satisfaction" is served by murder in the name of vengeance is ephemeral.  Such hatred only serves to destroy the hater from the inside.  For believers, consider Leviticus 19:18 ... "Do not seek revenge or bear a grudge against anyone among your people, but love your neighbor as yourself. I am the LORD."  That message appears over and over in the bible.  And in the koran, a similar sentiment can be found "The recompense for an evil is an evil like thereof."  Of course, in those same documents can be found very contradictory calls (or even demands) for violence against their enemies.   Apparently, in Abrahamic religions, vengeance is not entirely left in the hands of their deity - or at least the message in this regard is pretty mixed.

Ironically, the unceasing violence that dominates the Middle East is thoroughly covered with the cloak of "religions of peace".  Like politics, the mindset of religion is dominated by unthinking, unquestioning obedience.  Religion and politics often are bedfellows in the rape of humanity - not always, of course, but history says this is a common situation.  Sometimes politicians see religion for what it is:  a means of exercising control over people, and so some politicians seek the suppression of religion since it can be a competitor for that control.  But religions typically survive (or even thrive) under political suppression - believers often see themselves as being persecuted for their beliefs, even as believers persecute others for their different beliefs.  One need only to look at theocracies or nations dominated by one religion to see the fruits of such tribalism.

Nationalism and religion are simply tribalism made manifest.  Tribalism is the ultimate source of "us versus them" - it requires conformity (obedience, control), rewarding those who support the tribe and punishing those who don't.  Tribalism simultaneously can induce compassion (reserved for the tribe members) and encourage cruelty (toward members of other tribes).  Tribalism is buried deeply in our evolutionary heritage and so has become instinctive.  We find comfort in the security of surrounding ourselves with people of similar beliefs and are discomforted in the presence of those who differ from us.  It's the wellspring from which bigotry, hatred, and violence flow.  That sort of "thinking" likely was helpful to the survival of early humans and so is hard-wired in our brains.  But what was helpful in days of primitive human existence is not at all helpful today.  Seeking company only of like-minded people nowadays is seen by many as harmful and counter-productive:  being challenged by someone of a different mindset is seen by many as a good thing.  Interestingly, some of those mouthing such words are, in fact, wholly dismissive of opposing viewpoints.  This had led the US to a deeply divided society:  liberals in one tribe, conservatives in another, who pour invective on the "enemy" and their leaders.  Wake up, folks!  This is unproductive tribalism and, given free rein, it ultimately can lead us to violence.

Since I'm an idealist, I must maintain the hope we can overcome this.  There are some who proclaim the secular humanist viewpoint that it's unhealthy to surround ourselves with those of entirely like minds.  We can think things through and if we do so, it should be possible to suppress our tendency to yield to tribalism, to push back the anger and the bloodlust that tribalism generates to support our wish to impose vengeance on those who differ from us.  Our experience tells us that achieving vengeance only hardens the will of the "tribe" upon which we exact vengeance - it creates a never-ending "feud" that can only achieve more of the same.  It creates new recruits for our "enemies", ready to sacrifice themselves just to kill us.  Surely we can agree not to give in to primitive urges, choosing instead to embrace diversity.  Tribalism is no longer the path to human survival.  We must work together to solve our many challenges in the modern world, or we risk falling back to a much more brutal form of existence.


Lisa MacArthur said...

I have to agree, you are taking an idealistic view of this issue. Religion is the root of all evil, or at least most of it. Whoever said it was money was wrong.

Chuck Doswell quoting the bible and koran, now I've seen everything. I hope you're not growing soft.

Unfortunately Israel is dealing with an enemy that denies it's right to exist. Why anyone is wasting their time negotiating is beyond. You can't negotiate with an enemy like that. Unless you're willing to do away with your own existence.

Unfortunately due to world opinion Israel isn't dealing with this problem properly. When faced with an enemy that fires rockets into your country indiscriminately you need to hit back so hard that they are unable to do it again.

These aren't normal people, these are people under the influence of a religion.

If I was running the IDF, it would be real simple. Fire rockets into our territory and you will get a rain of run from the air, the likes of which have not been seen for decades.

Bring back General Curtis Lemay. What they need is someone like "Bombs Away Lemay."

Fight fire with fire, or in this case incendiaries.

Pretty soon there is no one to fight back. People mourn, problem solved, nothing worse than what happened in Dresden or Tokyo.

No more rockets being fired indiscriminately at Israel. Life can go on.

Those who were stupid enough to kick over the bee hive and thought their so called god would protect them unfortunately had to learn the hard way.

So did Japan, so did Germany.

You can hope for a peaceful solution but when one party says that the other has no right to exist, it "aint gonna happen."

Lisa MacArthur
Riverside RI.

Chuck Doswell said...


I'll not apologize for being an idealist. Quoting scriptures here is a way of showing the hypocrisy of taking revenge, according to the very scriptures believers are supposed to obey. Hence, I'm far from growing "soft" on religion.

I disagree strongly with your concept of a "solution" to this problem. Violence begets violence unless people choose NOT to give tit for tat when wronged. Revenge virtually never works if you want a lasting peace.

Lisa MacArthur said...

I disagree strongly with your concept of a "solution" to this problem. Violence begets violence unless people choose NOT to give tit for tat when wronged. Revenge virtually never works if you want a lasting peace.
As usual, you make a lot of sense. However, in this case I don't see how you can change the minds of people who do not think that you have a right to exist. If my stated goal was the removal of C. Doswell from this world, how can we negotiate? It comes down to who gets who first. You can put up with rocks being thrown at your house or car but eventually things may get worse. If I was brainwashed by religion to believe that under no circumstances should C. Doswell exist because he is simply too intelligent. How can you negotiate with me? We have nothing to build on.

You have a few choices.

1. You knock some sense into me or try.
If that doesn't work, there is option 2.
2. You take me out.

I cite Japan and Germany as proof that enough force can bring about a lasting peace.

Look at the respect and reception that the Japanese gave General Curtis Lemay when he went back after the war. Despite the fact that he burned Tokyo to the ground. Sometimes, that's what it takes.

If you have a reasonable enemy, one not "high" and "strung out" on religion then negotiations will probably work.

Otherwise, those extremists that are brainwashed need to be neutralized because you can't negotiate with them.

So, what Israel is doing clearly isn't working. Hamas will come back in a few years, stronger, and attack harder. Israel will have to respond in kind. When does it stop? When fission becomes involved? Better to stop it now with conventional weapons.

It's funny how the middle east does nothing for the Palestinians. No one else is welcoming them into their countries. Hamas is making their existence unbearable.

Their opinion is that if they have to sacrifice a whole generation of Palestinians to get rid of Israel, no problem, small price to pay.

I agree fully with your opinion that religion is very dangerous in the hands of leaders and big decision makers. It's 2014. We don't need to believe in fairy tales to explain things that we don't understand.

So, there seem to be two solutions to this problem. 1. Israel get's up and moves to some other place on the globe. 2. Israel deals with the rocket attacks with a similar amount of force that we through at Tokyo and many German cities.

Look at it this way. How many Americans on American soil were killed by the Japanese? About 5. A poor family was killed when they ran across a Japanese balloon that was floated over from Japan with explosives.

How many people on American soil were killed by the Germans? None. Germany did make a mess of our merchant shipping right off the coast.

Look at Israel, a good number of people killed by the rocket attacks.

I say, let them use as much force as they want.

Otherwise, I don't understand how you can negotiate with people who don't want to negotiate because they don't think you should exist.

So far it's been a colossal waste of time.

Get rid of the Palestinian problem and the world will be much happier, including most of the middle east except for Iran.

My religious friends keep telling me that the showdown will finally be nuclear, based on prophecy. It would be much better if the rest of the world would shut the h.e. double toothpicks up and let Israel take care of the problem so that fission does not become involved.

Oh by the way, you're right, tit for tat responses doesn't work. The world needs to shut up and let Israel fix the problem with a very non tit for tat response.

Walk softly, carry a big stick, know when to use it.

Lisa MacArthur
Riverside RI

Lisa MacArthur said...

Recent history, as you say, has proven that tit for tat responses only make the problem worse.

20th century history has proven that if your enemy is not reasonable and will not negotiate in good faith, overwhelming force will solve the problem.

By the way, I think that Burgess Meredith said it well when he said that you can wish in one hand and shall we say grab a handful of manure with the other and see which one gets filled first. He was a little more colorful but I didn't want to be rude.

You're a smart guy. How do you deal with people who do not believe that you should exist? I'd like to hear your answer.

Lisa MacArthur
Riverside RI

Chuck Doswell said...


A lot of white space in your first response comment. You might want to limit that as it makes your comments longer than they need to be. In fact, you might try to be rather more concise in future comments.

All you're doing is saying the same thing in different ways. I'm not opposed to individuals or even nations defending themselves. The essence of the question, though, is how effective "tit for tat" has been for Israel. The absence of peace in the Mideast says neither side has been successful with their foreign policy re their neighbors. In my view, both Israel and Hamas share the responsibility for what has been going on. I don't endorse Hamas in ANY way, but Israel's policies have not been working, nor should they be expected to work.

Germany and Japan both eschewed a response in kind after WWII, that's true enough. Neither nation was capable of it, of course. But it's my belief that most Germans and Japanese came to see the futility of violent responses and the evils committed in their names make many of them ashamed of their country's actions. Of course, there are nationalist groups in both countries who would seek vengeance for their national humiliation, but thankfully, they're impotent minorities ...for the moment.

The peace in Germany and Japan following WWII has been very good for both nations and, frankly, they'd have to go crazy to try that violence again. Do you think it's sane for the Mideastern combatants to keep trying violence as a solution. Really?

Lisa MacArthur said...

Do you think it's sane for the Mideastern combatants to keep trying violence as a solution. Really?
Interesting question. In the case of the palestinians roacket attacks are their way of harassing Israel. When Israel hits back they skillfully use the media to make Israel look bad while conveniently forgetting about the fact that they started the counter attack by firing the rockets in the first place. They are also skillfully taking advantage of the fact that Israel's response is going to be limited. They are going to lose some of their own people but that is an important part of their plan. They need the dead bodies to make Israel look bad. I'd say their plan is pretty well thought out. What is insane is the amount of suffering that they will let their people endure. Israel seems to be in a no-win situation. They have to respond and of course the world condemns them but they can't respond in such a way that the enemy is unable to continue with it's rocket attacks. In my opinion Israel needs to stand up, kick the board game over, and change all of the rules. So, how does this end? The palestinians drop their goal of eliminating Israel or Israel eliminates the palestinians. If there are 1.8 million palestinians, maybe a revolution is possible and hamas could be overthrown. I hope you're right and the palestinians realize that when they die, that's it, lights out, nothing is going to happen so you may as well make the best of the time they have on this planet because it's the only time they're going to have. Religion should be universally barred from teaching anything about an afterlife unless it can be proved scientifically. No afterlife teaching and there is a lot less incentive to waste your life on this planet fighting about stupid religious matters that don't mean a blankety blank thing. I'd like to throw in one thing. Sanity and religion seem to be incompatible. The more of one you are the less you are of the other. It's hard to be sane when you're making important decisions based on fairy tales. I hope you're right and I'm wrong.

Chuck Doswell said...


"So, how does this end? The palestinians drop their goal of eliminating Israel or Israel eliminates the palestinians." Those are not the only options. Perhaps in your mind, but not in reality. The violence can end when both sides acknowledge that violence is not the path to a stable solution.

Lisa MacArthur said...

Perhaps in your mind, but not in reality. The violence can end when both sides acknowledge that violence is not the path to a stable solution.
I'm taking the view of a realist, you're taking the view of the idealist. We're never going to agree. I've gotten my point across as well as I can and you have gotten your point across. I think we're going to have to leave it there and agree to wait and see what happens. I hope you're correct in your view.

Lisa MacArthur
Riverside RI

Chuck Doswell said...


I've made no predictions ... and you have created a most polarized version of my position. But I also see no point to continuing this.