Are we trying to solve the problem the wrong way?
I recall once some decades ago, I was in a somewhat emotional discussion, and my brain was in overdrive, trying to logically reason it out. It really felt odd, like getting no traction or finding no solution, when my co-discussant said, “No. Wrong direction.” That stopped me cold, which was exactly right, and I tried looking in other directions, like emotion. It wasn’t a logical problem, it was an emotional problem and the answer would be in that area.
I am watching a hyper-militaristic movie, Clear and Present Danger, one of the Harrison Ford movies based on Tom Clancy’s novels of the same stripe. (I just watched a long sequence on launching a fighter jet from an aircraft, shown with great detail, no dialogue (but background music), and I realized that this sequence, which had zero to do with plot, was simply a quid pro quo for the cooperation of the Navy: they get to insert recruiting sequences. (At least that’s how it looks.)
And as I watched all the variety of armed response—the RPG-wielding drug dealers, the US Navy, the CIA: they all try to find the answer through the sort of violence known as “armed conflict”—in essence, a microwar. That’s the wrong direction, it seems, based on evidence to date.
There is, of course, another direction, which seems to be admired. Maybe we should try that direction.
Interesting: that thought was from reading the article at the link, and seeing the movie, along with that memory, triggered it.
TL/DR: Culturally, we’re going in the wrong direction, a direction we know does not end well. Why?
UPDATE: I realize that this is not a novel insight. What is novel for me is how glaringly obvious it is if you just look. The Iraq War did not, in fact, bring peace and prosperity to the Middle East, but that’s sure what was promised. Maybe the military “solution” is not the right solution. Have you noticed the pickup in terrorism? That’s certainly the wrong direction. We can see it very easily in the other culture but seem oblivious to it in our own—that is, we cannot recognize that the military response has been counter-productive, which suggests that it is the wrong direction to take.
UPDATE 2: Hah! I just read this David Brooks column after writing the above. The thought seems to be in the air.
UPDATE 3: I got to thinking about the cycle that we kicked off when, in the course of the Cold War, we armed the Afghani mujardeem and taught them guerilla warfare (a CIA operation, told well in the bok Charlie Wilson’s War and much less well in the movie of the same name). We gave them weaponry and taught them how to figut the Soviets, who had superior technology. And, as we know, they learned well.
Let’s see: Osama bin Laden was mainly angry about US military bases in Saudi Arabia. He obviously embraced violence as a good direction (overall, in the long term) and supported various terrorist acts incuding 9/11, which of course triggered a strong reaction that was dealt with by going to war (of course! only possible response!), First with the war in Afghanistan (we’re still there and it’s spilling over into Pakistan more and more) and then in Iraq, which resulted in melting down the middle east.
Back and forth, each side responding with a way that has proven, over and over, not to be a good strategy, long term. And yeah, I know about Ghengis Khan. But 9 times out of 10? Makes it worse, not better. Hell, the British are still suffering various after effects of their policies in Ireland, Wales, Scotland, and so on across the world. And the US is still suffering from the aftereffects of building a slave-based economy. (I feel certain that there are other choices and options, though probably not many that would be so profitable for the plantation owners.)
History has a lot of echoes: cultural waves breaking against each other and combining in various ways. (I do like William H. McNeill and recommend his History of Western Civilization. Or another favorite, read with the same point of view of cultural waves clashing and creating echoes, is David Anthony’s
The Horse, the Wheel, and Language: How Bronze-Age Riders from the Eurasian Steppes Shaped the Modern World. Basically, it’s meme evolution. (Another (frequent) recommendation: Susan Blackmore’s The Meme Machine.)
As Richard Dawkins demonstrates in Chapter 11 of The Selfish Gene, memes by necessity must evolve, since they are replicators that allow occasional variation, and thus variations that help survival and reproduction get passed along. Genes are the basis of lifeform evolution, memes the basis of cultural evolution.
So memes gotta struggle. Surving demands it. But that struggle need not and should not harm the meme’s host (the animal homo sapiens, evolved to support memes). Better if we could find how to resolve meme struggles without harming the hosts.