Whenever I set up a political war room, for instance, I tell the assembled youngsters their loathing of conservatives is a purifying force. “Let it wash over you,” I tell them. “Step on their necks, and don’t lift your foot until the day after the election. Hurt them.”
“By beseeching us to look at the photograph of those murdered children – by begging us to take just “a moment” – Amanpour was indirectly acknowledging a reality of modern life: We need to be shocked to act.”
Also Warren Kinsella
I don’t see the “need to be shocked” as particularly reflective of modern life. I’ve been around the world and have witnessed a wide variety of human-on-human atrocity that didn’t make anyone other than me, the foreigner, bat an eyelash. Even in local politics, people who have shouted to the heavens “move forward together” have said, in private, that to get ahead in this world, it’s every man for himself.
Disagree with me if you want, but there’s a rationale for this that goes beyond a blank declaration that the world is evil. What we traditionally do is exactly the same as what our counterparts in the rest of the natural world do – we conserve energy for when we might need it most. Our first layer of self is a selfish one; ignoring a homeless person on the street, leaving empty coffee cups on store shelves, not holding the door open for the person behind us or not worrying about what happens to the soil if we extract every ounce of natural resource from it. Whatever is a gain for us, individual, is a loss (of resource, of time, of safety, etc) for someone else.
This is nothing new; today’s generation isn’t more ambivalent than every one that’s come before it. While there is still a large swath of population that doesn’t care what happens to anyone other than themselves, their family and perhaps their social group – a work cast, an ethnic or religious group, etc – this is a trend that is on the decline. We are becoming more aware of our present as part of a spectrum that includes the future as well as the past and are taking into consideration long-term consequence as well as immediate benefit. As we are hyper-socialized through urban living, media and now, social media, our nets of influence (and therefore, of compassion) are ultimately reaching out further.
Again, there are parallels for this in the natural world; altruism isn’t a uniquely human, God-given ability that sets us apart from other species; it’s simply another evolutionary advantage. It’s one that makes a lot of sense, too – you gain more influence and control over external factors like storms, predators, illnesses and food access when you work together. But this also means risking loss through providing to others without a definitive guarantee of return. Collaboration eats away at independence, but furthers opportunity.
This, then, is the real human dichotomy; not the political left vs. the political right, but individual independence vs. social strength and mutual benefit. It’s also the origin of strategy, which at its simplest is planning for victory tomorrow, even at the expense of a win today.
While political war room strategists might speak metaphorically about stepping on necks, that’s all it is – metaphor. When was the last time we had a political assassination in North America? When in Canada, specifically? While we might accept throwing each other’s youth “under the bus” as fair play, we remain aghast at the idea of actually killing children.
When we expand the net from political strategy to actual military strategy, hearts-and-minds campaigns, fostering local supports and where possible, facilitating structural collapse from the inside rather than expending resources and political capital ourselves is more the norm than ever. We don’t want to kill off opponents – we want to harness them as markets, partners, sources of usefulness. It’s that inherent biogical altruism playing itself out at the international scale.
Unfortunately, there will always be selection-of-the-fittest examples at the grand scale. After every diplomatic, strategic and manipulative tactic has been tried, force becomes the only option remaining (inaction causes the problem to spread, eventually calling for action – it’s like trying to avoid going to the doctor for a toothache). Force results in proud leaders being stripped of their power, honour and dignity. They become fodder for social media, today’s equivalent to heads on pikes as warnings.
The majority of people who will or would wield power register these examples and add them into their strategic considerations, forcing them to lean a bit more in the pro-social, manipulative direction. And the cycle continues.
What follows manipulation in terms of fostering success? Empowerment.
So, to the dichotomy of good and evil folk out there worried about a closing spiral on civilization, I would say this: there is good in this world – and it’s worth planning for.