"Whenever I go into a restaurant, I order both a chicken and an egg to see which comes first"

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Why Can’t We All Just Get Along? Because The End Of Violence Is A Chimera

Poor Rodney King.  After his famous ‘Why can’t we all just get along’, his $3.8 million legal settlement and initial enthusiasm over a tell-all book, he reverted to his old ways. In 1993 he crashed his car into a brick wall in downtown Los Angeles and was convicted of driving under the influence, and entered rehab.  Not long after he got out, he was arrested for domestic violence and attempting to run his wife over with a car.   A few years after that, he crashed into a pole dead drunk and was arrested for resisting arrest.

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It is a good thing that all we remember about Rodney King is his tragic lament.  Beaten, broke, and disheartened; stunned by the spotlight and concerned that his alcohol problems might come to light, and grateful to find some words to say to the media, he spoke and was immortalized.

With all respect to King, we have all felt this way at one time or another.  Wherever we look there is blood – in the Middle East, the inner city, or increasingly in Western Europe.  Rather than turn down the heat, politicians in this election year (2016) add fuel to the fire.  Enemies are everywhere both within and without, they say, and are intent on destroying the foundations of democracy and our country along with them.  Acrimonious debates are common on the election trail and on the media.  Twenty-four hour news channels focus incessantly on racial violence, police barbarity, white privilege, and socio-economic inequality.  Immigrants are vilified, spat upon, attacked, and murdered. 

It is no wonder that nearly a quarter of Americans are so sure that the world in which we live is evil, godless, and doomed that they believe that a fiery Armageddon will cleanse and destroy the world and usher in the New Age within our lifetime (Christian Post 9/12).

Image result for durer four horsemen of the apocalypse

Other than evangelicals who in large numbers (over 70 percent) believe in the coming Apocalypse, American secular progressives are the most troubled about the state of current affairs.  Firmly rooted in 19th humanism, an outlook or system of thought attaching prime importance to human rather than divine or supernatural matters, progressive humanists see the potential value and goodness of human beings, focus on the commonality of human experience, and seek rational ways of solving human problems.  There is a rosy future for the human race if only we put our minds to it.  The world seems so chaotic, however, that even they are beginning to wonder about the foundation of their convictions.

Between these two extremes are political conservatives, nihilists, and determinists who believe that there is never progress nor evil.  History has shown that human nature, hardwired and ineluctable, ensures the violent expression of self-interest regardless of historical era.  The Twentieth century can surely claim a place as the most violent in human history, rivaling the 13th (Genghis Khan and the Mongol conquests), the 8th (Lushan revolt), and the 17th (Fall of the Ming Dynasty).  

Human conflict has a much longer history.  Tribes, clans, religious and ethnic groups vying for power, wealth, and territory have slaughtered each other for millennia.   This  rape, slavery, and butchery goes unnoticed because events are pinpoints in huge continents; but they are even more illustrative of the natural, predictable, and inevitable conflict that characterizes our race.

Husbands and wives fight.  Siblings fight.  Lawyers, investment bankers, shop-floor laborers, Wal-Mart checkers, burger flippers, preachers, and hairdressers all fight.  As long as competition, conflict, and separatism are congenial if not contributive to human survival, evolution will not do away those bits of human nature.

A strong case can be made for the enduring legacy of violence.  The great kingdoms of the world did not just happen.  Rome, Persia, the Mauryans, and Islam; Mandarin China and Shogun Japan; the Gao and Ghanaian African empires all expanded their territories and power through military assault.  Victory meant spoils, enrichment of royal treasuries, the construction of pyramids, temples, roads, and aqueducts, and churches.  Civilization – ideas, art, science – flourished during times of conquest and expansion of empire.

The desire to end violence, conflict, war, and adversity is misplaced.  These expressions of human nature will never disappear.  The goal is to manage them, not try to eliminate them.

Conservative political philosophers believe in the benefits of competition.  That is, although there will always be losers, the winners and their constituents will always be better off for the struggle.  Competition requires intelligence, strength, insight, strategic vision and determination; and the victors by eliminating less worthy adversaries, assure that these qualities persist and spread.

Conservatism, however it may be criticized for dismissing the concerns of the poor and disadvantaged (the losers in the competitive struggle) is realistic.  If competition has resulted in empire, wealth, and the spread of culture; then it should be encouraged, nourished, and promoted everywhere.

Despite the criticism, conservatives are not dismissive of the poor.  They only believe in a different paradigm for encouraging equality – a paradigm, they say, whose time has come after over 50 years of failed statist, interventionist, and failed public sector programs and policies.  It is only fair to see what a conservative radicalization of America will produce.; or how deregulation, privatization, tax reduction, and dismantling social programs – i.e. promoting individual enterprise and enabling even greater flows of private capital – will reduce inequality and increase opportunity.  It is only time to continue what Ronald Reagan began.

Visit any playground in America, and you will find parents trying – unsuccessfully in most cases - to encourage sharing and cooperation.  Despite their efforts, toddlers grab, push, shove, grapple, and hit.  They want to protect what is theirs and acquire what is not.  Siblings fight over portions of food, minutes of attention, bedtime hours, privileges, punishments, and rewards.  They are never happy until they have more than their brothers and sisters or at least until the shares are exactly equal.

Why is it, therefore, that these parents are surprised at world conflict?  If children start off aggressively with territorial interests and acquisitive demands; and if only the most restrictive regimes can control this so-called ‘anti-social’ behavior, then why are adults surprised when their world cohorts go on rampages?

Human societies, realizing that such violent, selfish behavior is innate, have tried everything to keep it in check.  God, religion, morality, ethics, rules of conduct, and humanism have all been created to manage human nature.  While the proponents of each may have believed that they were in the inherent values of world peace, spiritual salvation, or communalism, they were simply contributing to authority.

Human nature is a given, and no one should ever be surprised at its familiar expressions.  A literary critic once noticed that if one were to lay down all Shakespeare’s Histories in chronological order, the course of events would always be the same.  Palace intrigues, coups, murders, war, expropriations, misrule, and  conflict were found in all of them.  Only the characters changed.

So, the United States will have to confront Russia, China, and ISIS.   American citizens will have to deal with the Law of Unexpected (But Obvious) Consequences.  Civil rights enable civil disobedience which in turn creates divisiveness and contention which in turn creates backlash, confrontation, and more violence.   Minority communities in the United States are no different from the individual states of the former Yugoslavia.  Once Tito fell, Serbs, Bosnians, Kosovars, and Muslims freed from authoritarian control and subjugation of their identities, went on a rampage.
We should not be surprised what we unleashed in Iraq and what we facilitated in Syria, Egypt, and Libya.   We thought liberal democracy was a universal, higher good, and we found out it was nothing of the sort.

The only lesson in all this is: Be Prepared To Fight.  The world is adversarial.  Societies are adversarial. Children are adversarial.  What could be more clear?

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