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tripping on my ideals?

by Cary Hopkins Eyles

"We’re not solving a problem here. We are defending our values and country etc. We are not solving anything. We are obtaining the justice our dead citizens deserve. And some violent acts solve some problems! You’re tripping on your ideals." – Steve

I always tell my students that we need to define the issue, problem, even words we are debating. Sometimes it turns out that we are referring to completely different things – hence misunderstandings. I also often realize that discussions or debates are not going anywhere because there is no core common ground. If eric and I cannot agree that we are both hungry then it will be difficult to come to a common decision about what we want to eat. A more abstract example: if we cannot agree that people are inherently good (evil, indifferent, whatever) then it is difficult to come to agreement about much else. Steve and I cannot agree about the use of violence. He says it isn’t a good thing but he still calls for it. I do not support violence. In that way my ideals get in the way of the discussion because I just can’t get past this basic idea: we should not kill or hurt one another.

The following two paragraphs were not consecutive in Steve’s writing but they go together very well so I will reply to them together:
Steve: "It’s true that we are not always the pillars of greatness that we claim to be but none the less we have done much more good around the world than is implied in this forum. Acts of terrorism such as 9-11 speak for themselves and need no further defining. Acts of terrorism such as you claim are measured on a different scale. Helping one side or another in a government coup or some such thing can be determined to be a ok by those who are participating based on possible outcomes or benefits. Of course we’ve ruffled feathers in the world, who hasn’t ? By merely stepping out in the world you are bound to do that. Being active politically most certainly has it’s highs and lows.”

Steve: “Grassroots organizations don’t get squelched. They peter out from lack of interest. Any real cause can move on without “fear” of the US government. Unless of course scrutinizing your organization would be deemed squelching! As far as helping other countries we’ve always had a very far reaching policy of foreign aid. I don’t see where Bosnia is any great shakes for the US or it’s allies. I don’t see where Somalia was anything we wanted. As a matter of fact I don’t think any of the countries listed by you have anything we want except maybe some trade or friendly faces in certain parts of the world. That’s called diplomacy.”

Cary: According to Webster (I know, I am an academic dork but it is important to know what we are talking about), terrorism is: “Systematic use of violence, terror, and intimidation to achieve an end.” We have certainly done this in other countries. This is how we have ended legitimate revolutionary movements from inside countries and put illegitimate leaders into power. This is not about people deciding they don’t want to be in Greenpeace or NOW anymore. This is about people who are dedicating their lives to fighting for freedom, much like how you conceptualize our military, and in comes the U.S. – who has nothing to do with the conflict except that we want something – and steps on them.

Steve: “Then why would it be wrong for the US to step in to a country where people are oppressed or human rights are so deplorably dismissed? Or is there no good way to help the poor and the helpless people of the world being taken advantage of by their own leaders? Either way we lose, don’t we? The problem isn’t that we do something, it’s that everyone thinks they can do it better. Well if you can, then anti up your billions and go for it!”

Cary: What I have been trying to explain is that we need to be very careful about any actions we take – whether they are to help or hurt. We need to ask why (see Joe’s essay) we are doing what we are doing and what the ramifications will be. Much of our behavior comes from believing we know better than other countries. We look at them as “less developed” (because we are so developed that we don’t have huge problems of drug addiction, homelessness, poverty, inequality, racism, etc. in our country – note the sarcasm) and try to impose the U.S. system on them. This is irresponsible. I did not say we shouldn’t help anyone but there are a few major points to consider: we cannot do it out of our own interest or we will do it indiscriminately (we help some countries when ethnic cleansing is occurring for example and not others) and we the right people need to be involved – not people who want oil or other resources – people who are aware of how these actions affect the world (historians, anthropologists). Also, I just have to bring us back to the present and recall that what we are doing in Afghanistan is not a sticky morally ambiguous scuffle with people who are trying to overthrow a government or the like.

Steve: “Doing no harm isn’t necessarily doing anyone any good. It dismisses those who can’t or don’t know they can ask for help. How many Africans have to die in their stupid little class wars and tribal feuds. How many have died or suffered horribly because no one (not just the US) has acted. Do no harm, cannot be an activist/reformist perspective simply because it is apathetic by nature. What is harmful to some may be helpful to others. What is harmful can also be dictated by others instead of your own beliefs. Stopping a war and feeding innocent people may require force. Stopping innocent people from being slaughtered may require force. Everyone pisses and moans about our methods. But can you imagine what the results would be in many instances where force was necessary, if it was not used. There is no way there will be any kind of peace in Ireland without the Brits taking care of business. Those idiots would slaughter each other. And the same in Bosnia. What is wrong with people trying to save other people from the little insane men? Can you actually expect that these men would stop if you asked them. If you verbally assaulted them do think they would listen. So how many more would die because you wanted to do no harm? Do no harm is for doctors.”

Cary: I believe that doing no harm is an incredibly complex and active process. You have to consider all the consequences of your actions to be sure you are helping and not inadvertently doing harm. This does not mean you become paralyzed and do not act. But you act with much greater responsibility, as I would hope a doctor would do. It also doesn’t mean that you don’t take risks.
As for what is wrong with people using force to save one another, well, this isn’t an easy question of course. But I mostly think this: it hasn’t worked so far. Violence begets violence. We are not primates anymore – we can move beyond that kind of behavior and be creative and do more. Your philosophies will lead us to more and more violence (“to end violence”) while I would rather move towards a peace society.

Steve: “I’m sure that there was great anticipation of using our new toys in ‘real’ situations. That’s the nature of the soldier. Would we be vulnerable without our toys? I think we would be more vulnerable simply because we wouldn’t be perceived as such a threat for retaliation. Right now the insane little men of the world are sweating bullets because we’re out there and can do to them anything we want and they can’t stop us. Is there protection in that? Of course. Who would be foolish enough to attack the US now (and for many years to come) with the threat of such consequences. You are right of course about our activity being directly tied to our ability and hardware. Look at ‘don’t get involved’ Sweden for instance. No hardware, no effort!”

Cary: It’s not a popular view but you make the world you live in. If I fear my neighbors and live with 5 locks then I create a fearful neighborhood. If I am trusting and aim towards something better, I just may get it. That doesn’t mean that I won’t be cautious and realize that there is a great deal of history behind me that has lead to mistrust and violence, but I won’t continue down that path. This may be seen as naďve, idealistic, silly. So be it.

Steve: “Striving for the ideal doesn’t necessarily have anything to do with what you personally want. Your ‘ideal’ is very different from a lot of other ‘ideals’. I’m sure the bin Ladin ideal is not very close in it’s theory to yours! In his ideal, you’re dead! What a concept. Ideals are badly needed in a world such as ours but I think we’re all better served when the ideals are attainable and the goals are sensible. There never was and never will be a worldwide society. Societies are far too diverse for such a thing. Your ideal would require everyone to have the same beliefs, goals and values. Not even remotely possible.
Bombing doesn’t maintain our ideals, it defends them. Like it or not values, morals, ethics, religions, societies must be defended from people like bin ladin who would destroy what he can in the name of his own values and ideals.”

Cary: Thank you for reminding me that ideals are not necessarily universal. It is true. However, I believe that we are a lot less different than you think. And while distinct cultures should and will remain and flourish, I don’t believe that means we cannot live together in peace.
I believe that is a sensible and attainable goal. And I also think that goals are only attainable and realistic if you believe they are. It is all what you believe and what you make of the world. Self-fulfilling prophecies are very real.

Steve: “You know as well as I that a block or a parry is only a temporary situation. World War 2 did have the effect of bringing peace to the world (block/parry). But there are always insane little men to get stuff going (new attack, new block/parry) again. Stopping one conflict doesn’t necessarily stop all conflicts.”

Cary: True. If you and I have an argument and we make up, that doesn’t mean we won’t ever fight again. But we do have some tools to make it less likely. For example, we can work to be more tolerant of one another and to communicate and not be selfish or self-serving. If we act the same as we have always acted and do not use any new tools or change our behavior, it is likely we will fight again. But even if only one of us changes our behavior, there is a much greater chance we will not fight again or that the arguments will be minimized.

So how about if we use our energy - everyday - to work towards and maintain peace?

Steve: “This is naďve. To believe that our citizens can be murdered and for us to talk about it is to say that there is no safety in the world for anyone. If your mother be murdered should we run out and ‘talk’ to the murderer and ask him to please not do that anymore? Is that in anyway acceptable to anyone in this country? What’s the difference? Bringing justice to the murdered souls of 9-11 and their families isn’t wrong. Taking the fight to wherever it goes is what Americans do.”

Cary: Sadly, the people who died on 9-11 are gone. That will not change because we kill more people or even because we catch bin Laden. Everything that happens after a person dies (a wake, funeral, etc) is for the living. Everything is to ease our suffering. And as I said in my last essay, there is a growing movement of people whose family members (friends, lovers, etc) were killed in the World Trade Center who are against this war and feel their loved ones wouldn’t support it either. How does that fit into your argument?
As for your murder scenario, I have been asked this many times because I am against the death penalty. And I can honestly say that I would want that person to get serious treatment and that I would not want them to hurt anyone else but I would not want them to die. That would not bring back my mother. It would not bring closure (studies in the psychological field show that while people expect it to bring this dearly needed closure and satisfaction, it does not). I would have enough pain and grief to deal with without fighting to kill another human being (*who by the way would be a friend, son/daughter, lover, sibling, parent to someone else – it is an endless cycle).

Steve: “That is not the point. The question still remains. When is it ever right to kill people? Even America isn’t right in killing people. We tried very hard to not kill Afghans who were not the enemy (one of the benefits of all those toys). Unfortunately there is a conflict when it comes to obtaining justice in this case. We are resolving it as quickly as we can.”

Cary: You may want this war to end quickly and that is commendable but I would argue that our leaders do not. War brings economic stimulus (the people at Boeing need to make something so they don’t get laid off) and as we see, it makes the President look like a hero (high approval rating on his foreign policy although his domestic ratings are not as good) not to mention the ever-present oil situation.
And in answer to your question, I have yet to be faced with a situation (hypothetically, in foreign policy, in the U.S., in my life) where it has been appropriate to kill another human being. If someone was trying to kill myself or my family (currently, actively) I would defend myself but as you know, there are many ways to incapacitate someone without killing him.

Steve: “Unable? The ruling government. Unable to say OK here he is or come and get him we’ll help you. We have not attacked the Afghan people. We have attacked those living in their land creating a harsh and violent regime for them!”

Cary: Yes, unable. But I wasn’t talking about the Taliban, I was thinking of the people of Afghanistan. Besides, it seems reasonable that they might not have been able to get him since our entire army has been unable to thus far with the amazing amount of resources we have available to us.
Besides, would we just say ‘okay, take him’ if an American committed an act of terrorism? While it is not the same, it makes me think of the case in Singapore where Michael Fay committed vandalism and they were going to cane him. We were up in arms but that is their criminal justice system. He was in their country and committed a crime. I do not agree with caning (see pacifist views above and below) but I have to question our right to stop this consequence. When it is “one of ours” we don’t want to just give them up.

Steve: “I wasn’t implying your views are bullshit, but the whole political process is. If political bullshit is stripped away, real reasons, values and such can be seen. Politics is not an easily agreed upon thing. Rather we should concentrate on doing the right thing and the sound thing. Politics ain’t it! At this point whether there are people who don’t want the war is moot. There are not yet enough. That’s democracy. When there are enough maybe we can shine like you want us to!”

Cary: A great deal of the political process has been tainted and corrupted but that is much of what I am fighting against. What I believe to be right and sound is what leads my political, personal and other views. They are indistinguishable. That is what I was referring to about being “whole”. The political workings may not be sound or just at this point – I would agree that they are not. But that is why I am so active in political issues, because we as the people need to take back the power. It is not there to be bought by those with the money, connections and oil.
I also refuse to believe that my beliefs are moot. They may not be the majority beliefs but in a democracy they should be heard and considered.
There is a growing group of activists so the message will continue to get louder: Peace.


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