Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Missing Signals

I had an amusing conversation the other day. I was speaking with a colleague at the day job who is also familiar with my work here at Frequently Interrupted, and a comment was made to me about, “since you’re a pacifist …” I laughed. I am certainly not a pacifist, and I pointed out this mistake. I used my favorite “try to imagine a viking who has discovered the benefits of Zen meditation” analogy. I quoted the “I’m always angry” scene from The Avengers movie. I explained that, while I view violence as an absolute last resort, I do still view it as a possible resort. I dislike violence, and will do what I reasonably can to avoid it, but the operative word there is “reasonably”. If there is no reasonable way around it, if circumstances have conspired so that violence is the reasonable answer, I will no more hesitate to use that reasonable answer than I would any other reasonable answer. The right tool for the right job. There are just vanishingly few jobs for which this is the right tool.

As I said, this was an amusing conversation, and we were able to understand each other in short order. No harm, no foul, and no big deal in any direction, but it did get me to thinking along related lines. There are often times when we view a single source of data and, for whatever reason, believe that we have received enough information to draw reasonable conclusions, without realizing just how much is still missing. Sometimes it is a matter of mixed signals but, more often in these circumstances, the signals are missing entirely. It is a classic example of the seven blind men all trying to describe an elephant by touch. Each man is not wrong in his own sphere of understanding, but he is still wrong in expecting that his sphere covers the entire understanding.

Such is the case here. There are many subjects that I don’t tend to discuss within Frequently Interrupted because they are not necessarily pertinent to my mission here, and sometimes people draw conclusions from this absence that are not valid. Assuming that I am a pacifist is a fairly common example. Though this case was amusing and easily resolved, I have actually received harassment and derision at times based on the same erroneous conclusion. Even more frustrating, this has, at times, even come from people who have every reason to know better. Some people see what I discuss here and assume that it is an entire picture, when it is really only a trunk or a tail or a leg. It is a true piece, but only a single piece of the entire whole.

Allow me to provide an example that I hope will present a clear picture. We have all seen the bumper stickers that say, “coexist”. These are artistically designed so that each letter represents a different religion or philosophy, and the obvious message is, “Let’s all get along, regardless of religious differences.” It’s a pretty straightforward philosophy and clearly one that I promote here in various forms. I will happily coexist with anyone willing to happily coexist, whether or not we agree on the various details, and this seems to be a pretty easy solution to me. Inevitably, though, someone comes along and points out that one cannot coexist with someone who is trying to harm you, and then I have to mentally change gears to try to understand how that caveat wasn’t already obvious. If I am happy to coexist with anyone willing to coexist, the obvious corollary must be that this is a two way street. Someone who is not willing to coexist must obviously be approached in a different manner. How many times can I use the word “obvious” in a single paragraph before the point becomes, well, obvious? Even the most vocal advocates of “coexist” do not generally mean “coexist at any cost.” There may be some who do, but they are outliers, not representative of the idea. Every idea has outliers, which are usually irrelevant. They do not contribute to the actual definition of the idea.

For me, at least, this idea is true across the board. I do not believe in “coexist at any cost” or “peace at any cost” or any of those related ideas. I don’t honestly know anyone who does believe in such an idea, though I do understand, intellectually, that such people exist. They are alien to me. The concept is not something I can truly understand as anything other than a thought exercise. “Peace at any cost” is just a fancy way of saying “slavery,” and I will oppose slavery at almost any cost. There are lines that cannot, must not be crossed, and if violence is the only way to prevent that crossing then violence must be an acceptable, even occasionally a correct answer. I would hope that we do our best to make certain this happens as rarely as possible, and I do believe that we can do better in that department, but I also believe that we must be ready for it to happen. As long as there are people who are unwilling to peacefully coexist, it will happen.

A problem that we run into with this discussion, and one reason that I tend to avoid it within these pages, is that too many people profess this philosophy and then go looking for exceptions. You are not really minimizing the use of violence if you are looking for excuses to use violence. Again, I would think this is obvious, but I have long since made peace with the fact that the general public and I have very differing definitions of obvious. In my opinion, too many people don’t like to think things through. It’s easier to say, “no violence ever,” (whether or not you actually mean it), or to just resort to violence whenever it is convenient. It is far more difficult, but, I believe, far more useful to allow for the possibility while setting clear restrictions. The more people who honestly adopt this view, the less it will be required while we will remain prepared for those occasions when the requirement occurs.

I will peacefully coexist with anyone who will return the favor, regardless of race, color, creed, religion, gender, sexual preference, number of limbs, planet of origin, spelling of name, or any other irrelevant criteria. If someone threatens my loved ones or an innocent victim where I can make a difference, I will do what is required to remove that threat, also regardless of extraneous details. I think that is a pretty sensible dividing line. I believe it is foolish to create enemies where they do not already exist, so I will not go looking for reasons to not coexist, but I will respond honestly and accurately to reasons that are presented. If that response requires violence, so be it. It would not be my preference, but I will do everything in my power to make certain I did not create that requirement, so I will feel no guilt for working with reality, as is. I will also continue to promote ideas and practices that will make that necessity less and less common.

That, ultimately, is why I do not usually discuss this subject here. Promote what you love or want rather than bashing what you hate or don’t want. Spend more time on the positive, and the negative will usually see itself out the door all on its own. Once in awhile, it needs a small nudge. This is a small nudge. I will probably still receive some harassment, but possibly less, and even that may be more educated. One can always hope. I will continue to promote what I love and want, regardless, but I do so with eyes wide open. If you didn’t already realize that, consider yourself told.

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