“Grass-roots hatred is a much greater threat than it used to be”

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There are some odd parallels between here in Northern Ireland where we have two parties who seem not to be able to agree the slightest matter of political substance, and the US Congress where nothing is agreed ever unless they cannot avoid it. The result in both places is, as they say in the jargon, somewhat sub-optimal.

In his sign-off at the Atlantic Magazine Robert Wright shares some useful thoughts:

[1] The world’s biggest single problem is the failure of people or groups to look at things from the point of view of other people or groups–i.e. to put themselves in the shoes of “the other.” I’m not talking about empathy in the sense of literally sharing people’s emotions–feeling their pain, etc. I’m just talking about the ability to comprehend and appreciate the perspective of the other. So, for Americans, that might mean grasping that if you lived in a country occupied by American troops, or visited by American drone strikes, you might not share the assumption of many Americans that these deployments of force are well-intentioned and for the greater good. You might even get bitterly resentful. You might even start hating America.

[2] Grass-roots hatred is a much greater threat to the United States–and to nations in general, and hence to world peace and stability–than it used to be. The reasons are in large part technological, and there are two main manifestations: (1) technology has made it easier for grass-roots hatred to morph into the organized deployment (by non-state actors) of massively lethal force; (2) technology has eroded authoritarian power, rendering governments more responsive to popular will, hence making their policies more reflective of grass roots sentiment in their countries. The upshot of these two factors is that public sentiment toward America abroad matters much more (to America’s national security) than it did a few decades ago. [Emphasis added]

On his second point it’s worth picking up my piece from the Monday on the Internet, and the importance of facing fears

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  • http://nalil.blogspot.com Nevin

    “to put themselves in the shoes of “the other””

    This technique was often used at Corrymeela. I recall a story from the late Ray Davey about an encounter (back in the early 70s, I think) between some working class Protestants from East Belfast and nationalists with an intellectual background from Dublin. The opening Friday night session got out of control and had to be stopped; every point the folks from Belfast made was easily turned over by the Dublin ones and this led to frustration and from frustration to anger.

    Ray took a different tack on Saturday; he set up a role play with some Dubs pretending to be Belfast prods and vice-versa. This levelled the playing field as neither side knew much about the other; everyone had a good laugh and then they were able to have a much more relaxed and productive exchange.

    The keys to the successful change were Ray’s ability to relate to each group and to use his personality to enhance the confidence of the weaker group and curb the power of the stronger one.

  • http://redfellow.blogspot.com Malcolm Redfellow

    Grass-roots hatred is a much greater threat to the United States — and to nations in general, and hence to world peace and stability — than it used to be.

    Wright, a decent humane man off to lecture on Buddhism at Princeton, could have given other reasons for that, had he known what else was in the current issue of The Atlantic. There is, for example, Conor Friedersdorf wondering In 2012, Did Conservatives Lose a Battle or the War? This article features a debate which includes John Yoo, whom — in a footnote — Friedersdorf reminds us was an arch-exponent of GW Bush’s policies of Blut und Eisen (with wee bits of depleted uranium for good measure).

    What made Yoo notorious, and may — just may — have exacerbated anti-American ‘grassroots opinion’ was his 1st December 2006 exchange with Professor Doug Cassel of Notre Dame:

    Cassel: If the President deems that he’s got to torture somebody, including by crushing the testicles of the person’s child, there is no law that can stop him?
    Yoo: No treaty.
    Cassel: Also no law by Congress. That is what you wrote in the August 2002 memo.
    Yoo: I think it depends on why the President thinks he needs to do that.

    With legal friends like that, the US doesn’t need too many enemies, and ‘world peace and stability’ needs all the help it can get.

  • David Crookes

    The torture thing is an either-or test of whether a person or a nation is civilized. There is no circumstance in which equivocation is tolerable. If you know about it, and assent to it in any degree, you are a barbarian.

    A lot of the anger which has blazed out across classes and across the world against America is a response to the fact that the USA has tortured a lot of people in the recent past. That fact leads many persons who might otherwise have been more or less pro-American to question the war that was waged against Iraq on the basis of a lie.

    Are any USA citizens who approve of torture watching the Belfast rioters on TV, and clicking their tongues in disapproval?

    Listen. We may be bad, but I’d rather be one of us than one of them.

  • http://redfellow.blogspot.com Malcolm Redfellow

    Thank you, David Crookes @t 9:41 pm.

    A while back, at the Dulwich Art Gallery, I stood in front of Norman Rockwell’s Four Freedoms. And wept.

    Where did we go wrong?

  • David Crookes

    Thanks for those links, Malcolm Redfellow, and for your moving post.

    At the end of World War Two, the USA incorporated a large number of fascists in its military-industrial complex. Did anyone think that there would be no price to pay for that act of incorporation?

    The so-called ‘Patriot Act’ has as much to do with democracy as the Nuremberg Laws.

    The USA, panicking about its ‘failing superpower’ status, is a very bad example to unionists who are panicking about the union. A certain species of corporate fear often leads to fascism, and fascism is always self-destructive. For the last eleven years the USA has been obsessively spying on its own citizens.

    Many people who used to support the Anglo-American alliance as an article of faith are now hoping that a strong but liberal Europe will contrive to take its place. I hate the idea of the ‘New American Century’, because I hate the idea of one nation telling the rest of the world what to do — especially when the ‘deep’ government of that nation is greedy, authoritarian, anti-intellectual, and almost completely illiterate.

    America has been blessed by the blaze of energy and intelligence which comes from ethnic blending. There is no reason why Europe in time should not enjoy the same kind of blessing.

  • David Crookes

    Bizarre thought occurs to me as I head up to bed. Why is there not more grass-roots hatred of Saudi Arabia? See the following story on the BBC news site.

    Sri Lankan maid beheaded in Saudi