--If a door slams in the middle of a forest, can you hear it? Or, is it better to ask what is the door doing there in the first place?--
I have been reading a lot lately about the topic of international relations. I am perplexed. It is a testament to humanity that we have not already blown each other up...with the possible exception of the infinitely probable times we ‘missed it by that much’. Or, it is an equal testament on the endurance of humanity despite its propensity to be on a death wish? I am not sure so that is why I set out to determine what is the most reasonable path of enlightenment.
In favor of nationalism: “Neutrality is no longer feasible or desirable where the peace of the world is involved and the freedom of its peoples, and the menace to that peace and freedom lies in the existence of autocratic governments backed by organized force which is controlled wholly by their will, not by the will of the people.” No, NOT George W. Bush but Woodrow Wilson from an Address to Congress Asking for Declaration of War, April 2, 1917.
He continues, “The right (to lead this great peaceful people into war) is more precious than peace, and we shall fight for the things which we always carried nearest our hearts—for democracy, for the right of those who submit to authority to have a voice in their own Governments, for the rights and liberties of small nations, for a universal dominion of right by such a concert of free peoples as shall bring peace and safety to all nations and make the world at last free.”
Well then, welcome to the 21st Century, too.
In favor of God: Leo Tolstoy regarding Government Patriotism and Christianity—“No feats of heroism are needed to achieve the greatest and most important changes in the existence of humanity...but a change in public opinion. If people would only believe that strength is not in force but in truth, would only not shrink from it either in word or deed, not say what they do not think, not do what they regard as foolish and as wrong…”
Hmm. Truth apart from personal gains? “Let no man understand that they are not the sons of any countries or a government, but the sons of God, and that, therefore, they cannot be slaves, nor enemies of other men, and all those senseless, now quite useless, pernicious institutions, which are called governments, and all those sufferings, acts of violence, will disappear of their own accord.” --Tolstoy.
Well, nice as that may sound…REALLY on their own accord???? Niceness WITHOUT its own relationship rewards? Does not a Prince reward the faithful servant and punish the one who does not obey his desires? How can you set aside the decisions of the one who represents the many and not consider that the one or the many may have their own agenda apart from the good of the world and vice versa?
Machiavelli said in The Prince—“A Prince therefore who desires to maintain himself must learn to be not always good, but to be so or not as necessity may require.” Does that then preclude the necessity for truth?
Even Reinhold Niebuhr in regard to Christianity and Power Politics during Nazi Germany recognized the need for truth and its association with Christianity. He adds some very interesting literature to the mix as follows:
“It is important that Christianity should recognize that all historic struggles are struggles between sinful men and not between the righteous and the sinners; but it is just as important to save what relative decency and justice the Western world still has, against the most demonic tyranny of history…The secularists believes in the gradual emergence of a universal mind. The Christian believes every man is potentially a Christ. He has forgotten then in the profoundest versions of Christianity, every man sees in Christ not only what he is and ought to be but also the true reality to which his own life stands in contradiction.” So, back to truth and the individual as it relates to others.
Niebuhr adds, “The logic of isolation is plausible enough but the moral implications are intolerable. To wait until ultimate perils becomes immediate means is to wait too long.” So, don’t enter into the game at the last minute because it will be too late to change but if you enter the game too early, it may not be for the right reasons and may only be for a sense of the rewards of being on the ‘winning’ side and/or possibly to promote your own agenda in the grand scheme of an international arena? Niebuhr says it isn’t good to meddle in the affairs of others, but recognizes that there are causes where meddling is not only right but an urgent necessity. But this might lead to overrunning other governments and peoples whose lifestyles differ from mine in order that mine may be preserved. Is it ok for me to preserve my lifestyle if it means taking yours away or, at least altering it to some extent? Or, by the act of human nature, is it our right to fight for our lifestyles even it if means that I have to kill you to do so? Extreme? Well, yes. But it is
clear that if we do nothing or wait until the last minute that we may not be able to do anything at all except bow to those that were already ‘at the table’. And, if we somehow find ourselves at their table, won’t we bring what we like to it and be hesitant to partake of those items that others have brought with them?
Like in school, you sit next to the kid who knows the most about that particular class. So, in this case and in the words of John Burton in Challenging the Realist Paradigm, International Relations or World Society?, you “Seek…essentially functional relationships that have their source in the organization of a scarcity of resources in the satisfaction of infinite demands.” You need help in calculus so you seek out the calc wiz. Or, if you like lasagna and you don’t have the ingredients to make it yourself, you sit with or ‘by’ someone who does and ignore the one who brought the brussel sprouts. Burton points out that scarcity creates communities—those who would band together for a common cause. But, he understands that, “Our problem area is allocation, not scarcity, relative deprivation, not deprivation.”
So, nationalism again-truth, religion, monarchies, personal preference, basic human needs all come together in a way that is still a hodge podge. It is not easy to wrap my head around these items because I could argue the validity of each in a given situation. DING! DING! DING!
Ah, relativism. Things are important but not as important as how they relate to one another. Burton uses an excellent example. “Punishment, even physical punishment, by a parent is usually in the context of a relationship. It is not the physical hurt that has any effect… What is at stake is the relationship, and to preserve this the child is prepared to conform, if necessary…But punishment…where there is not valued relationship rests entirely on the physical pain or the deprivation inflicted…It is in this form of punishment, unassociated with valued relationships, that the court, authorities and society inflict. Behavior is not altered by it in the direction intended: on the contrary, the behavioral response is to damage the person or property of that…authority or society as soon as opportunity offers…If this analysis is valid, traditional means of allegiance to authority and observation of its norms—that is, the traditional deterrents—must be self-defeating……It is clear that unacceptable behavior is not likely to be deterred by sanctions and other means of coercion.”
So, you can’t force someone to think the way that you do but you may be able to make them understand why you think the way that you do and coerce them into submission through various means. You can also consider that if there is no relationship, there can be no punishment except potential obliteration that can possibly deter an enemy who has never sat at your table as a friend. This, which may not be obvious to you, leads me to the issue of slamming doors.
I do not like the sound of slamming doors. In fact, the sound is horribly disruptive especially in the middle of the night and/or throughout the day when trying to rest because you were not allowed to sleep during the night. So, I made a bold statement to those individuals who enjoyed slamming doors that I would appreciate it if they would be so kind as not to continue doing this behavior. After all, I thought, this behavior is not going to deprive them of any rights but would allow me to be grateful to them if they resisted the urge to continue to slam doors. I thought that this approach was very positive and forthright. No games. Just a simple request. Having said this, it exposed a ‘weakness’ or entry point into my psyche. Problem solving without immediate reaction like murder involves some negative exposure on the part of the person or persons involved in a potential dispute. In this case, I told the truth, requested their assistance to understand the need, but did not have a ‘token’ to give to them. For example, had I said something like, “I will not kick your asses if you stop slamming the doors,” might have put me in a better negotiating position but could possibly have left me without a home to live in. So, I opted to be put into the requestor position without a firm negotiating point except the sole request to comply from the standpoint of an appeal to common decency.
But, perhaps I did not understand fully the meaning of Howard Zinn in Vietnam: Setting the Moral Equation when he wrote, “…Man’s constant problem—how to release the truth without being devoured by it.” I released a vulnerability. As you might imagine, my simple request instead provoked anarchy. In fact, the slamming of doors increased to the point where I could only surmise that the original offenders who might have accidentally slammed a door or two in the beginning were now gathering in brute force to slam doors down the entire hall. Truth here with a straightforward request did not work and we all spoke the same language and apparently had the same values at stake since we were all college students who needed to be considerate of one another. I should add all were bound by common rules, too. And yet….doors kept slamming….all afternoon, all night…in the morning….etc. Rules are great, but universal compliance to the ‘rules’ is another entity unto itself.
Now, perhaps I did not have the presumed authority to ask that they not slam the doors. Ok. Perhaps they thought that since I was not their mother (thank God for small favors), that I did not have a right to ask them to do anything. But, since I was not their mother and I took the time to ask them nicely and they responded negatively, is it now up to me to employ my own tactics such as mutual door slamming, screaming, and intimidation? They chose to continue this game and opted not to allow me to sleep when the rules of the dormitory said there are designated quiet hours. Not my rules…the rules are set forth by the powers that be and agreed upon as part of the conditions for dormitory living. Am I wrong to ask them to obey them, even if they arrogantly choose not to obey my direct requests to do so? Do I report them to higher authorities? Do I take measures into my own hand and start slamming my own doors when they are sleeping? Sophomoric as it may seem, that is the trouble now with Iran and the nuclear threat. Or, like the United States and Iraq after twelve years of negotiating and making nice. Do I take one more door slam and forget diplomacy and start slamming doors and screaming at all hours of the night while they are sleeping? Do I spend the next decade trying to convince people how to act civilized? I mean, I am crabby after a few weeks of sleep deprivation, can you imagine what wrath cometh after more than a decade? But, what extent would I have to take if I opted to fight back? There are twenty doors and subsequently twenty people behind them who are enjoying their little agitation against me. After all, it IS fun to poke the lion with a stick as long as you are protected by many others and relatively far enough away, right? It rather gives the little monkeys a temporary feeling of superiority. You know, power in numbers and all that. Even after the lion raises its head and stares them right in the face and says to cease now, they still poke at him or slam another door. The lion, being somewhat civil and understanding that he could devour all of them easily, tries not to be too angry. But the lion cannot tolerate the additional ‘dis’ at some point. So, one day he decides to pull the holder of the stick into his den and have an early lunch. Is it right for the instigators to be angry when they lose a brother to the lion’s lunch? How many times is it necessary to tell the instigators to stop before they will? Once, twenty, one hundred times? Am I supposed to know better because I am the lion or can you expect that the monkeys should know that there is a limit to human or as it were, lion tolerance? Do I become a ‘monkey hater’ if I tell them to stop or face the consequences? I think not.
So, we are back to the problem of the slamming doors. How many times do I think it is enough for doors to slam, over what length of time, during what time of the day, and to what adverse affect to my health? If I say fifteen times in less than an hour is too much, especially if you couple it with the present and continuing duration of 2 weeks, and since it is impairing my ability to make non-hostile decisions. After two months, five times in an hour may be deemed too much. After all, I am as agitated as the lion. I am under no real social responsibility to the door slamming pokers/instigators. I have addressed the need for them to stop publicly and positively. So, is it now up to me to start slamming doors at 4 am when they are in bed or do I simply stand outside my door all night and monitor the situation when I would like to be sleeping. I mean, won’t that disrupt my sleep, too? Won’t I get weary of baby-sitting the door slammers and then just decide that wouldn’t it be easier to take them out as each of them slams their respective doors while they smile demurely? I mean, when does that become an option?
So, here we have a small issue among people that speak the same language who cannot resolve the issue because of a social mentality that gets a kick out of out-numbering an otherwise stronger opponent. What is left to do? Get other people who do not like door slammers and form a coalition so that you are no longer just one but many? Now when the door slammers keep you up all night, one person can stand guard while the others rest and then suddenly you have an army of folks who are now so closely in tuned that their only motto is that they hate door slammers. Of course, the door slammers hate those wretched protectors of sleep.
Hmm…interesting how these small things can be escalated and that even attempts to moderate responses gets more and more out of hand. We forget nationalism, we forget truth and maybe even common courtesy towards another human being and we create our own. But mostly, we forget that not everyone is the same or even has mean intentions. However, the continued repeated hostility of an action—whether unintended or not, that continues even after the party has been asked to cease their activities is, in itself, an act of hostility. In the same way, the lion has no choice but to eat the offenders one by one as does the person who begins to hate all door slammers wishes if not actually acts, to off them one by one, too.
Machiavelli said something very interesting in The Prince. “To come back now to the question whether it be better to be beloved than feared, I conclude that, as men love of their own free will, but are inspired with fear by the will of the Prince, a wise Prince should always rely upon himself, and not upon the will of others, but, above all, should he always strive to avoid being hated…” Do not think that this statement of ‘being hated’ in relation to actually deserving to be hated. After all, there are many ‘monkey’ ploys out there that can make an innocent man/woman hated through the propagation of lies. Instead, note what inspires his logic. In fact, look closely and you will find that his intentions are not to protect a moral position of those who serve him but to self-preserve. Not really honorable, huh? But, since the instigating door slammers or the lion pokers, have opted NOT to fear the lion and instead just to hate him, the lion must find a way to get back the ground he has lost. He cannot allow them to continue to disrespect him since that is a sign of a loss of fear. The fear is what kept them in balance. However, he cannot put himself in the position of being hated, either. (Why? Because propaganda ruins more people, palaces and planets than bombs.) The lion must restore power and therefore instill fear back into the door slammers/lion pokers. But, the lion may get away with eating the pokers, but can the victim who has lost sleep get away with the same for the door slammers? Well, obviously not. So, we are back to the question of ‘international’ relations even in this small scenario.
It would not be ‘prudent’ to off the door slammers. But, it may be fun to put itching powder in their sheets or some other relatively harmless act. But, knowing that they would only wish to slam the door more or perhaps even cause more trouble, like through false accusations, then the sleepless victim would have to continue to raise the stakes higher and higher until eventually she might HAVE to shoot them, either out or rage or sleep deprivation. Not a pretty picture, but since logic is not the guiding behavior on the part of the door slammers/lion pokers, it cannot be expected that logic would guide the behavior of the person who is sleep deprived and harassed in her own home.
What is the solution? Does the lion allow himself to be poked by lesser individuals? Does the sleep deprived victim of door slammers concede and move out? Or, does this victim request that the authorities begin to enforce their own rules? Or, do you take action into your own hands? Side bar: asking the authorities typically makes them side with the door slammers and lion pokers because they think that by you asking them to review something under their authority that you are putting their jobs in jeopardy. In effect, the door slammers and the lion pokers have become a social entity unto themselves and they even form their own nationalistic objective that is subject to the authorities that were supposed to control them becoming a part of their ploys. Once the ‘enforcers’ join their ranks, this becomes a bad nationalist objective and certainly one in which there is ample opportunity to promote your own self interests. Also, if there are other people who can get accepted into the door slammer/lion poker crowd and in some way defer negative opinions about themselves, then they have an additional reason to join the crowd, even if they know that it is not right to poke the lion or harass the sleeping student with door slamming. And yet, it is done.
Do I have a solution other than ignoring them? Well, yes. But I do not wish to go to jail for it. Does that make me weak? No. It makes me not want to hurt a group of people who have hurt me but I know I can do much more damage to them than the sleepless nights that they impose on me. Have I waited too long now that I have become intolerant? Perhaps. But, the question is, how long will it take for any one of us to get weary? I think a lot less than a decade. So, relation to time relative to circumstances becomes an issue as it relates to group dynamics and the leaders who represent them.
Machiavelli also said, “It is evident to everyone that it is more praiseworthy for a Prince always to maintain good faith, and practice integrity rather than craft and deceit. And yet the experience of our own times has shown that those Princes have achieved great things who made small account of good faith, and who understood by cunning to circumvent the intelligence of others; and in the end they got the better of those whose actions were dictated by loyalty and good faith…”
So, in order to prove my faithfulness to who I am and to avoid being duped, sometimes I have to recognize that a good door slamming for an hour or two on my part to wake up my opponents might prove to be a fair exchange. And, there is still the viable option of purchasing itching powder to dispense on unsuspecting sheets. The problem is not knowing the solution to the logistics issue of letting them both know that I have in fact done this to them without actually getting in trouble for doing this. This is where the illogical acts of lion poking/door slamming justify my illogical acts and seemingly justifies or at least rationalizes their illogical acts. I quickly moved from debating ethics and integrity to the logistics of the ‘solution’ that had nothing to do with ethics and integrity. The issue really boils down to determining whether I can use this approach and maintain my sense of integrity. Answer—no, not really. Instead, I enlist the approach to try to change their minds by suggesting that they change their behavior. The length of time that I can do this with the compounding effects of lack of sleep will ultimately determine my final actions. And, that is the case here with nuclear weapons in Iran. The question is how long can they poke the lion or keep him from rest as he is disturbed by such a shift in the balance of power before it becomes necessary for the lion to break the stick and tow in the offender for lunch? Maybe even tow in the whole lot of them? Well, maybe not ALL of them, but just the few who represent the entire group that control/coerce others to irrational acts? Except, the stakes here are not one or two door slammers or a lion poker but the whole world. It is the fate of every person in every nation. Or, every lion poker in the jungle. Or, every door slammer in the dorm.