|The Wind and the Sun|
|THE WIND and the
Sun were disputing which was the stronger. Suddenly they saw a traveller
coming down the road, and the Sun said: “I see a way to decide our
dispute. Whichever of us can cause that traveller to take off his cloak
shall be regarded as the stronger. You begin.” So the Sun retired behind a
cloud, and the Wind began to blow as hard as it could upon the
traveller. But the harder he blew the more closely did the traveller
wrap his cloak round him, till at last the Wind had to give up in
despair. Then the Sun came out and shone in all his glory upon the
traveller, who soon found it too hot to walk with his cloak on.|
---from Æsop's Fables (Sixth Century BCE)
The Harvard Classics. 1909–14.
The top political strategy these days, it seems, is to see someone as doing wrong and denounce him or her.
The wind attempts to strip the traveler of his cloak.
From a 1919 Aesop anthology illustrated by Milo Winter and also included in the Wikipedia page on "The North Wind and the Sun."
Whether anything else beside accusation and blame could be the right course of action goes unasked. For the most part that's what people do--to other people, that is.
Unfortunately when the dust clears those we condemn are still there and still doing whatever it is we have condemned. In fact they often have grown stronger, as though they fed on how they were treated.
But, it is said, evil must be condemned, so we keep on condemning. And, as I said, those so condemned seem to thrive on it. Not only does the condemnation not "take," the behavior thought to be objectionable spreads.
American leftists who hate Israel have been condemning it. Meanwhile, the right wing there has only become stronger while the left is weakened. And now look what has happened over here in America with the election of Donald Trump.
Those Americans who are perennially displeased with American politics, considering the government a criminal enterprise or at least an enterprise being run by the wrong sorts of capitalists, have similarly vented their displeasure, with the apparent result that, with the election, the situation is worse than ever and with the potential to become more so.
Although African-Americans acknowledge having white allies, the rhetoric of race remains mostly binary: those who consider themselves black blame those they deem white and point the finger at "whitelash" as cancelling out progress.
Those are some examples that came to me off the top of my head.
The exception seems to be in the case of a captive audience within limited borders; that's how I'm conceptualizing the situation on some campuses. There, people are cowed, heads down in anticipation of shrapnel from the next impermissible utterance. Even if an exception, though, its applicability may be confined to narrow borders.
But aren't we supposed to confront evil and speak truth to power? Doesn't that define courage? It can certainly feel right, and the Greek chorus of support that so often follows such expression will not detract from that feeling of rightness.
However, if the tactic is making the opponent stronger, something's wrong. To the extent the obvious path of blame and protest isn't working, whether that's the right path needs to be considered.
Maybe we have to decide whether we want to vent or to be the change. Yet we get locked into the assignment of blame.
I suggest another strategy. Let's call it Judo-ism. Ha--I would come up with that pun!
My analogy is to the martial arts. The strategy is to avoid dissipating one's own strength, while instead turning the opponent's energy in one's favor.
I realize I'm not a student of the martial arts (although at age 29 I did take karate at a nearby Joe Corley studio, attaining the rank of green belt). Nevertheless, please bear with me in this simple analogy.
In fact, bear with me while I try to get down these thoughts that have been percolating in my head.
My focus here involves placing blame on a particular group or people or on a large swath of the population over whom one ultimately lacks control, so that in the end the views and behavior we call unacceptable persist. Or more than persist; we may have fanned the fire.
In the past, before pluralism and before the world grew so small, perhaps the wished-for social control did to a great extent exist. When one particular group has hegemonic power, their preferred social values and traits can be instilled into the dominant class. Meanwhile the minority is kept on the outs, which really doesn't matter since they are merely the minority.
But now such power is lacking. Polarized segments of society view each other in absolutist terms, thinking of themselves as good and the opponent as without any legitimate concerns, and beyond that, as having nothing positive to contribute. These forces seem stalemated, wreaking havoc on civil discourse while striking out from entrenched positions in hopes of dealing a knock-out blow. To that purpose, anything goes--up to and including turning their invective on the very government that legitimizes all of them and protects their right to speak and be heard. The social fabric is, if not in shreds, worn thin.
What we need to do is to avoid confusing our circumstances with those in which we can deal a knock-out blow. Look what happened when Japan attacked Pearl Harbor during World War II under that mistaken impression that the US was weak and would be easily constrained. Instead, with one stroke they woke up a sleeping giant, removed our paralyzing internal conflicts, and brought us into the war.
Our polarized forces today hardly look at themselves, focusing solely on the defined enemy.
That's where I think our religious precepts come into play, or should do so. I'm thinking of loving the other as ourselves--which entails thinking of the other as like ourselves--that is, like ourselves in feeling vulnerable, fearing pain and loss, and having similar desires and hopes.
I touched on such ideas soon after the election and was roundly dismissed by the few who ventured to read my reflections as having laudable but naïve and even dangerous sentiments, since one must attack evil, etc., etc. So, no, I'm not speaking of becoming "nice" and doing whatever Gibbon reputedly thought weakened the Roman Empire. Instead I see the issue as one of strategy, since the modus operandi so obviously does not work, and even, as I've argued, is having an effect opposite to the one desired.
I'm talking strategy. And vision.
Ordinarily, we humans are all too aware of our own weakness and vulnerability but are likely to look on the opponent as a powerful and dangerous monolith against whom anything goes.
We humans are susceptible to the temptation of indulging such a perception, so natural does it appear--and it may in fact be to some degree a natural phenomenon bequeathed to us by our evolution. It's said evolution has made us able to see the faults in others more clearly than those in ourselves, since others can pose an imminent danger that if ignored or overlooked could preclude the possibility of staying alive. From that angle, conscientious self-examination is a luxury best put off until later.
Then, too, the worse we are treating the opponent, the harsher we'll judge them and the darker the light in which we'll see them. As much as we give our judgments as the "reason" for our actions, that kind of judgment follows action, justifying it.
How to wrap our heads around the possibility of that being a short-term view imprisoning us in a zero-sum game, to our mutual sorrow?
In his 2009 book The Evolution of God, Robert Wright argues that in the course of their development, the three Abrahamic faiths each turned to power and force when the facts on the ground permitted it, but when force was not feasible, used precepts more akin to those of the sun in Aesop's "The Wind and the Sun" fable.
The sun persuades the traveler to take off his cloak.
What would "the sun's method" signify? Love? Something like recognition that the other, while far from perfect, nevertheless is of value and has something to offer? ...Maybe a lot to offer. The sun's method is sounding something like seeing and understanding the other--superfluous for the wind's method.
According to Wikipedia, "The Wind and the Sun" has been taken not only morally but politically. Which works better, "severity" or "kindness?" Well, in what situation and to what purpose? Honey draws more flies than vinegar, you might say--assuming we can correctly assess when the situation calls for vinegar and when for honey.
Sometimes one simply lacks the power to squelch the opposition or bend it to one's will.
There have been at least a couple of times I said something so profound and so close to the truth on an online discussion following a book review that I halted in midstream the BS (that's "bad sociology," per James Loewen of Lies My Teacher Told Me fame). I stopped it for around a month, that is. That was as long as the BS could be stopped. There was no power to check it for good and all.
When Deborah Lipstadt prevailed over David Irving after his defamation lawsuit against her on account of her challenging his holocaust denial, was he silenced? No. Not even after the judge handed down the verdict was he silenced; he kept right on spinning. (See the movie Denial.)
Sometimes the balance will finally tip, as with McCarthyism, white-supremacist violence in the Jim Crow American south, or Lost Cause mythology of the Confederacy, but it can be a long time coming before an idea becomes one whose time has come, and in truth we don't know in advance when, or if, that will be. And, truth to tell, we also don't know for sure--although we hope--that it's our own ideas--in part or in toto--that are destined to prevail or should prevail.
But that's ideas. Perhaps there are positive ways in which ideas can be argued, although, truth be told, debate sinks all to quickly into power plays and ad hominem attacks.
Even when it comes to persecution, a little won't stop the entity or movement in question. Arguably, a little persecution spreads the faith. (I attribute that idea to either Bart Ehrman or John Madden in their respective lecture series on early Christianity, but I can't remember which.) Persecution on a wide scale is a different story, but as I said, the groups I'm talking about lack the hegemonic power to suppress the other. I don't much care for the biological analogy but nevertheless will stoop to it here: attempting to suppress a group via disparagement and denigration, but without assuming ultimate power, is like using a weak antibiotic or one not taken for the full course.
Make no mistake: the groups issuing their condemnations are indeed wielding power, notwithstanding that they typically claim to be inveighing against the power of the opponent. That they indeed are wielding power while seeking more of it is not in question, even when we are distracted from noticing. They may portray themselves as weak and speaking truth to power even as they strive to gain the upper hand.
What's in question is the wisdom--or lack thereof--with which they wield that power.
Moreover, consider that the use of such options are not restricted to one's own group. If one is going to wield the "nuclear option" as one's mode of discourse, one should consider that the opponent may do so, too--and may do so even more effectively.
That's about as far as I can get at this point! To be continued.