Friday, December 11, 2015

What I think you think

We can best understand the furies of politics by remembering that almost the whole of each party believes absolutely in its picture of the opposition; that it takes as fact, not what is, but what it supposes to be the fact.  ~ The New Republic, Walter Lippman (March, 1922)

As we face the problem of violent extremists, it would be easy to attribute their behavior to the simplistic explanation of religious mandate.  Doing so allows us to categorize and quantify the problem, and to form a response.  It's probably a mistake to do so.

The tendency in us all is to decide before we discern.  We are likely to interpret what we see and hear in terms of our expectations.  If I don't like Democrats (or Republicans), everything they say and do will seem (to me) to justify my disapproval. 

Attributing simplistic motive - it's what pre-reasoning children do when they're in conflict with parents.  "You won't let me go out because you just don't want me to have any fun!" Or, because you just want to be in control, or because you don't want me to have any friends, or because ....  The list is long, and in every case it's inaccurate.  If we attribute motive to another and make decisions on that specious information, we're always wrong.

Always.  There's no progress possible in such a context, only conflict.

Motivation is complex.  If you were to try to explain your own motives in the moment, your explanation would be partial at best.  Why you chose your partner, your career path, your faith, your lifestyle ... all would need a collection of books to cover the actual path to decision. Every action in the moment has a traceable history that is rich with influences.

Similarly, the motives of political opponents or, perhaps more importantly, of violent extremists which we easily ascribe to single-sentence descriptions are in actuality quite complex.  If we're to pursue progress rather than continued conflict, it takes more understanding.  Much more.

As a beginning point for understanding religious extremists in the middle-East, it's worth noting that the current struggle began more than a century ago and is rooted in oppression, persecution, and human rights abuse.  Simply returning fire validates the current uprising.

What kind of response might begin to defuse the situation and address the cause? 

       (The challenge is to have uncomfortable conversations.  Because there are really only two choices: conversation or violence.  If there's a third way, human beings haven't discovered it.  ~ Sam Harris)