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February 24, 2006 5:15 PM   Subscribe

Reasonable people are capable of thinking about complex issues without resorting to simplistic oversimplifications. These two scholarly types discuss what seems obvious but lacks traction amongst most people. What can be done to make these voices heard and more importantly, accepted?
posted by mulligan (35 comments total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Is there a non-simplistic type of oversimplification?
posted by furiousxgeorge at 5:22 PM on February 24, 2006

Start over with a new species? Humans aren't really what you're looking for here.
posted by tkolar at 5:27 PM on February 24, 2006

Speaking to people on both sides of this so called cultural divide, it seems that the fundamental point in common between people espousing hateful and intolerant views of "them" is that their world view is incredibly black and white. An earlier post regarding bin Laden's speeches readily demonstrates the simplistic dar al Harb versus dar al Islam rhetoric used by him. Likewise, even a cursory reading of some of the more radical Western ideologues indicates a similar "us versus them" mentality. To a large extent, I'm convinced that people who grew up in the West who are rabidly eager to believe in such simpleminded ways would be the violent extremists we all despise had they grown up in the mid-east. I'm really stuck as to how do I convince people from both sides of this manufactured divide that everything isn't as bad as radicals would like us to believe.
posted by mulligan at 5:27 PM on February 24, 2006


yeah, i realized how badly phrased that was AFTER I hit submit.

: <
posted by mulligan at 5:28 PM on February 24, 2006

I've considered this question for many years, and despite my cynical cheapshot above I have in fact found one plausible way that you as an individual can help the situation.

Thich Nhat Hahn presents it in Being Peace.

Here's a short excerpt that gets to the point.
posted by tkolar at 5:40 PM on February 24, 2006

This looks like more librul libtard Jesus-bashing America-hating.
posted by orthogonality at 5:47 PM on February 24, 2006

Start over with a new species? Humans aren't really what you're looking for here.

Meh, we just need more brain capacity. Maybe computer implants...

/ 150 empathy slots is way too few
posted by PsychoKick at 5:56 PM on February 24, 2006

PsychoKick writes...

Meh, we just need more brain capacity. Maybe computer implants...

I wish it were that simple. Unfortunately, as the domestic violence statistics so graphically illustrate, we're even more violent and hateful inside our own tribes.
posted by tkolar at 6:08 PM on February 24, 2006

People are far smarter than they ever have been. It's just that today, the dumb ones have the ability to have their voices heard.
posted by Protocols of the Elders of Awesome at 6:15 PM on February 24, 2006

"no one can choose that the struggle for power shall cease. But there is one more element in the picture: no one is free to choose peace, but anyone can impose upon all the necessity for power. This is the lesson of the parable of the tribes.

"Imagine a group of tribes living within reach of one another. If all choose the way of peace, then all may live in peace. But what if all but one choose peace, and that one is ambitious for expansion and conquest?..."
posted by hank at 6:18 PM on February 24, 2006

hank: one word - moriori
posted by mischief at 6:24 PM on February 24, 2006

What we need is to create a God of our own, some kind of robotic satellite who will instantly terminate anyone committing an act of war or violence.
posted by Protocols of the Elders of Awesome at 6:32 PM on February 24, 2006

We would need more than one of those. I volunteer to be in charge of deciding who runs them; I would need a guaranteed profit margin, though.
posted by longsleeves at 6:41 PM on February 24, 2006

In human history, goodwill and rational scholarship have rarely produced reasoned detente.

I'm still amazed the U.S. and the Soviet Union didn't blow one another to bits before ending the Cold War, but frankly, that conflict fundamentally changed only because of what amounted to rot from within for the old Soviet Union. I wish I had any sense that the views the authors of the articles presented in the FPP could find traction in the wider world, but instead, I see: It's not hard to cherry pick a list of links spelling out doom and gloom for American policy in the world today, but the links above are all recent, fairly mainstream comment. They point to a sense I've been getting for several months, that if there is a significant further set of domestic terrorist attacks in the U.S., the willingness of the U.S. public, and the political leadership, to escalate to non-conventional military action is real. At some point, if the American public concludes that the cultural conflict between the American way of life and Islam boils down to there being more than a billion of "them (Muslims)" against 300 million of "us (Americans)" there is no telling whether U.S. military and political restraint will long continue.

At the moment, Americans don't yet feel the daily pressure of threat as Israelis do, but if it ever came to that, we have an unimaginable ability to rain destruction on whoever it is we see as a survival threat. I would hope our ability to carry on the kind of nuanced, factually based dialog described by the authors linked in this FPP would outweigh our fears, but I think there is a growing sense by people on the street of America, that we could lose this conflict, worldwide, and face defeat economically right here in our own country. $60/barrel oil, a $250 billion war cost, and thousands of coffins have already changed a lot of minds about the validity of a measured diplomatic and military approach. If things get substantially worse in the Middle East in coming months, and there is any hint of the kind of trouble Osama bin laden has recently threatened, there is going to be real pressure on American leadership to drastically retaliate.
posted by paulsc at 6:52 PM on February 24, 2006

The world needs more wordless thinking.
posted by HTuttle at 7:02 PM on February 24, 2006

Words only work linear. Thinking with words limits you to one dimension.
posted by HTuttle at 7:03 PM on February 24, 2006

Related thread.
posted by homunculus at 7:25 PM on February 24, 2006

Meh, we just need more brain capacity.

"We've offered you promotion time and time again, and each time you've turned us down..."
posted by homunculus at 7:44 PM on February 24, 2006

People are far smarter than they ever have been. It's just that today, the dumb ones have the ability to have their voices heard.

Perhaps for the whole world, but I believe in the united states, the average Intelegence has gone down (although the availability of intellectually argumentative tools has gone up greatly)
posted by delmoi at 7:44 PM on February 24, 2006

HTuttle : "Words only work linear. Thinking with words limits you to one dimension."

Their presentation is linear, but language isn't uniquely restrictive, as opposed to other modalities. Words have multiple associations which are weighted, where a specific linkage being invoked depends on the context. Stimulation via novelty & variety is the key to developing thinking skills, not primarily changing modalities.
posted by Gyan at 7:59 PM on February 24, 2006

Richard Florida
posted by troutfishing at 8:32 PM on February 24, 2006

fer chris sakes....

the more babble, the more the saluting.
posted by stirfry at 8:42 PM on February 24, 2006

Paulsc: What part of invading a sovereign country under false pretenses is a "measured diplomatic and military approach"?

If what we've been doing is "measured", I'd sure hate to see a genuinely aggressive administration.
posted by Malor at 9:01 PM on February 24, 2006

If what we've been doing is "measured", I'd sure hate to see a genuinely aggressive administration.

What paulsc has in mind may be something more like this:

if Bush were Dr. Evil he would go and start a war during Haj, provoke Muslims around the Globe into doing something outragous, Gets out his weapons of mass distruction directs them at Mekkah and:
Wham Bam, Bye Bye Islam
starting World War Three. But Bush isn't Dr. Evil and I am a fruitcake with pictures of giant lemons on his weblog.

--Salam Pax, writing from Baghdad, January 2003.
posted by russilwvong at 9:44 PM on February 24, 2006

Bingo, russilwvong. Give the man the good cigar...
posted by paulsc at 12:06 AM on February 25, 2006

I love reading these threads, especially after a few beers.
posted by wtfchuck at 12:52 AM on February 25, 2006

"If what we've been doing is "measured", I'd sure hate to see a genuinely aggressive administration.
posted by Malor at 12:01 AM EST on February 25 [!]"

I'm not exactly happy to oblige, Malor, but here you go. It's ludicrously easy to dig stuff like this up lately, but frankly, I don't know how much credence to give such views. A year ago, I would have said these kind of speculations were the province of the crackpot and tinfoil hat crowd. Now, I just don't know.

I fear ignorance, and zealots of all stripes. But especially those with agendas, and bombs, and the means to deliver them.
posted by paulsc at 12:58 AM on February 25, 2006

I've admired Appiah for years, and I enjoyed reading Adib-Moghaddam's piece (though I admit I have a tendency to wince when someone quotes Gramsci). This quote from the latter sums up most of the problems with human history:

As if it were essential to know the other's "difference" from us. As if it were obligatory to decide between "us" and "them."

Incidentally, if anyone cares, Moghaddam is the Persian form of Arabic Muqaddam, as Mosaddegh is the Persian form of Musaddiq.
posted by languagehat at 6:26 AM on February 25, 2006

Turns out, it's relatively easy to get a Martin Luther King Jr. holiday, but much harder to abolish racial discrimination in employment.

These links were both wonderful to read. I will definitely be keeping my eyes open for other works by these authors.
posted by voltairemodern at 9:39 AM on February 25, 2006

Parable of the Tribes sounds an awful lot like a variant of Prisoner's Dilemma.

Many people have to make analogies to understand things. In fact, we all do it; it's an fundamental aspect of our minds. Everything is an analogy on some level, even if it's just an analogy that some random bundle of signals in our heads could actually represent an object in the real world. They are a consequence of the limited resources with which our brains have to work.

But wherever there is an analogy, there is the possibility it's a false analogy. Our culture tends to hande this by splitting the responsibility for knowing things among many people, but that leads to situations where only an untrusted minority really know what they're talking about.

I'm sure many people here can come up with a real-world example of this, involving scientists and school boards and red states.
posted by JHarris at 12:02 PM on February 25, 2006

I haven't read Appiah's book, but his big idea of 'cosmopolitanism' appears to be stolen borrowed from Michael Oakeshott's theory of 'conversation':

Oakeshott: In a conversation the participants are not engaged in an inquiry or a debate; there is no 'truth' to be discovered, no proposition to be proved, no conclusion sought .. It is impossible in the absence of a diversity of voices .. This, I believe, is the appropriate image of human intercourse, appropriate because it recognises the qualities, the diversities, and the proper relationships of human utterances.

Appiah: The cosmopolitan ethic starts from the thought that human knowledge is fallible -- that no culture or individual has a lock on truth -- and upholds 'conversation', broadly defined as the respectful and candid exchange of views among individuals and cultures -- as a good in its own right; agreement is not its ultimate goal .. It says that difference and disagreement are so much grist for mutually enriching dialogue.

I love Oakeshott's model of conversation, so I suppose I ought to be equally enthusiastic about Appiah's cosmopolitanism. But I just can't warm to it. It's a difference of style as much as anything: with Oakeshott you have the sense that the drink is flowing freely, the arguments are getting heated and the conversation might take you somewhere you're not expecting to go, whereas with Appiah .. oh, it just sounds so boring, everyone gathered around the seminar table in 'mutually enriching dialogue', heads nodding wisely, pencils poised over notepads.

And when you look at it closely, there's something very limited about Appiah's cosmopolitan ethic. Liberal values are 'non-negotiable' (so unless you believe in 'basic human rights', you can't be admitted to the conversation). Religious values, on the other hand, are fully negotiable (so, for example, Catholics are entitled to believe in the sanctity of human life, but not entitled to impose that belief on others). This is quite different from Oakeshott's model of conversation, where it's made quite clear that there are no rules, no conditions of entry: 'everything is permitted which can get itself accepted into the flow of speculation'. It's hardly surprising that what eventually emerges from Appiah's cosmopolitan conversation is a set of impeccably liberal conclusions (racism is bad, torture is bad, arranged marriages are bad, the individual takes precedence over the community). To put it mildly, there isn't much sense of intellectual risk here.

At heart, I suspect, Appiah really believes that all the world's problems would be solved if everybody could just be made to sit down and talk to each other. If only it were that easy.
posted by verstegan at 3:04 PM on February 25, 2006

The solution to the 'Parable of the Tribes' is the same one nation states have been using for millenia: You allow only one group to project power. This group acts in the interest of the public, via its laws, and are accountable to the public's government. They are the police.

On an international scale, this role is supposed to be played by the UN. To wit:
"All members shall refrain in their international relations from the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any state... Members confer on the Security Council primary responsibility for the maintenance of international peace and security... The Members of the United Nations agree to accept and carry out the decisions of the Security Council in accordance with the present Charter."
But we all know how effective / enabled the Security council has been at avoiding unilateral action.
posted by Popular Ethics at 5:58 PM on February 25, 2006

Huh? That's not a "solution," that's exactly what the parable is pointing to: you have to pick somebody to rough everybody else up. Whether it's a "government" or just a random pack of bullies, somebody's going to have the "right" to push you around and take what they want from you. I don't want to be pushed around by anybody, thank you.
posted by languagehat at 4:56 AM on February 26, 2006

Whether it's a "government" or just a random pack of bullies, somebody's going to have the "right" to push you around and take what they want from you.

There is a big difference between a (democratic) government and a random pack of bullies. I don't want to be pushed around either, but, as the parable states, I can't expect that since all it takes is one bully to ruin things for everyone. To solve this dillemma, we, the weak majority, pool our resources to employ a police force. We give this force one group the power to reign in all others, under the condition that they follow our laws. This is one of the founding innovations of civilisation.

I won't argue that the UN is serving this role adequately - it's obviously not. But I don't think we'll ever get the kind of utopia Appiah advocates, we're going to have to give international law some force.
posted by Popular Ethics at 11:13 AM on February 26, 2006

...this force one group the power...
posted by Popular Ethics at 11:16 AM on February 26, 2006

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