Tuesday, June 15, 2010
5:30 AM. Okay. Ready to go. But I don’t know the topic du jour.
One of your friends challenged you to ask us why the attitude we suggested in re the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico didn’t amount to letting people get away with anything and everything.
Yes. That isn’t quite what she said, I think, but it was late for me and I just scanned the message, intending to read it more carefully today. I could go read it, I suppose.
Go ahead, if you wish. The day is young, your coffee is un-drunk and your vision is blurry anyway!
I expected you to say, “Oh, don’t bother, we got it the first time.”
And so we did. We can continue either way – but if you know, you won’t spend energy worrying and not-worrying.
You’ve got me smiling at myself. Okay, I’ll go fire up the machine and have a look.
6 AM. All right, I am back. To my surprise I didn’t get too lost in incoming e-mails, either. I’ll patch Sue Ellen’s e-mail in when I read this into the computer.
[Sue Ellen said: “Would you please ask TGU how they differentiate between what they have said below and apathy; and anarchy? Are they saying that no action should be taken in such circumstances? Usually, when no one is held responsible, people (usually the poorest and most defenseless) suffer. In this country, we have a system of rule of law. That requires discrimination and judgment on the part of the members of a jury to bring justice to the injured and responsibility to the perpetrator. I don’t know about anybody else, but I am not in favor of anarchy.”]
Your friend’s question could be rephrased, and interpreted, as something like this: If person-groups were to live without condemnation, how could social-groups protect themselves from irresponsibility and crime? Perhaps re-stating it that way will clarify the difference between condemnation and discernment.
The theory of your particular social-group (your country) is that the political mechanism acts as a sort of impartial enforcer of rules mutually agreed upon. We’re not going to examine how far this promise is rooted in fact and how far it is an ideal and how far it is in fact an illusion that itself helps prevent the closer realization of itself. (That is, one’s motivation for improvement is reduced if one thinks the improvement has already taken place, or if improvement is not needed.)
Given that promise, there are rules and there are mechanisms to enforce the rules, and of course there are penalties that can be imposed when a person-group or social-group is convicted of violating the rules. As your friend points out, in the absence of judgment of responsibility there can be no rule of law, no justice or even approximation of justice or even hope of justice. We agree with all that, given the system you are living within.
But if we agree with that, how can we hold to our previous statement? Let us see if we can clarify the difference between discernment and condemnation by a few examples that may or may not make it easier to see the difference between the two.
Suppose you were a Union soldier in the Civil War, fighting as you believe to save the Union. Would it be necessary (it might be a temptation) to condemn the members of the opposing army that you were shooting at? That is, because that person-group you were taking a bead on was a member of a social-group you were utterly opposed to, if only because you saw it as a matter of “them or us,” did you have to condemn the individual person-group within it? Historically, the answer is, no you didn’t have to. Some did, some didn’t. Some did sometimes and not other times.
Say you’re a cop giving out a ticket for speeding. Do you have to hate the person-group who was breaking the law, regardless who or what s/he is? Or do you just write the ticket?
Suppose you’re involved in a dispute – even a bitter dispute – with another person-group over property. Do you need to hate and condemn that other person-group in order to maintain what you believe are your rights?
Thus, — a serious, a rather trivial, and an entirely personal example of the distinction we would draw.
Now – look at the situation in your larger social-group (and we don’t even need to define which one: Make your own definitions). The coming of mass-communications and of instant perception (cameras on the Gulf floor) has led you all to broaden your perceptions – your virtual perceptions, call them, since they are filtered through so many human and technical intermediaries – far beyond your immediate sensory world. Don’t suppose that this is “by chance” – and don’t suppose, equally, that you are already accustomed to it. What are a couple of hundred years in the life of the species? The result is that familiarity tempts you into thinking you understand the name or the situation or the event that has become familiar.
But – if you are dealing with matters that you cannot judge out of your experience and knowledge, you can judge only out of intuition, feelings, and analogy to prior events (which themselves may not have been understood, only made familiar).
This doesn’t mean you should (or could) avoid forming opinions. It means you must recognize that your opinions cannot be grounded as much upon fact as more personal opinions could be. How are you to obtain the data, and the meaning of the data? So, your judgments even of what is “obvious” ought to be tempered by your reminding yourselves that you’re working from what has to be a pretty superficial impression. Eight hours of staring at a monitor showing oil spewing out of a hole would not improve your understanding of the situation, but it would harden your emotional reaction. That same eight hours spent investigating the technological, legal, political, economic, and human factors that went into the spill might leave you more aware of how much gray there was in the picture. The oil is still spilling out. The devastation is still taking place. The grounds for lawsuits and prosecutions are still accumulating, all the time you investigate – but look at the difference within you if you just condemn or if you try to understand. Condemnation is an easy and superficially a satisfactory response to a situation that is one of these external-awareness events. But – is rage, is hatred, good for you? Does it help you actually see what is, rather than a cartoon view of what is? In other words, does it allow you to see straight, or does it provide a cartoon image for instant gratification?
What is worse – condemnation usually assures that the true systemic causes of disasters such as oil spills or mine fires or building collapses or whatever go unnoticed. Instead, some person-group or social-group is condemned – made scapegoat – and the context goes uncorrected, only to provide more disasters and more scapegoats in the future.
Now, understand this. To say that some person-group or social-group is made scapegoat is not to say that the scapegoat is necessarily innocent! (Although, relatively, often enough it is.) It is to say that as soon as a scapegoat has been selected, the pressure is off all the official-non-scapegoats, and the pressure is off that would have spurred further investigation into the peripheral and subtle, or perhaps merely well-concealed, unidentified contributions to the situation.
So, even on a practical level, condemnation does not serve the social-group. It assures that the causes will go un-redressed, because some particular person-groups or social-groups have been identified and punished.
It amounts to saying, we don’t know and don’t want to know why these things happen. It’s enough to know how, and to find someone to blame.
If you will look at it, nothing we have said here would lead toward anarchy or apathy. It would lead toward calmness, clarity, cool-headed calculations of cause and effect, and intent to correct the cause instead of cursing the effect.
It is as Mr. Lincoln did. He never hated, he never condemned, but he was implacable in doing right as he saw the right, and in pinning responsibility as best he could.
Yes, and so was Robert E. Lee, who prayed for his enemies every night of his life.
Well, thank you for all this. I think it makes your point clear. But then, when I’m bringing something through, it always seems clear and obvious at the time.
Oh, do you think so? That’s not always our impression! Anyway, thank your friend for her question. Clarification is always good.
Feels like a short session today – it is only 6:45 – but this feels like a place to stop. Thanks again.