"Our greatest responsibility is to be good ancestors."

-Jonas Salk

Wednesday, June 19, 2024

Radical Patience?

When you characterize another culture by its most extreme proponents, you are doing the extremists a huge favour.

Angry people who take ancient books too seriously are dangerous. That's surely true. But it really doesn't matter much which book they are worked up about.

There are sane and crazy people in every corner of the world, saddled with social pressures to profess some religion or ideology. The way to fight extremists is not by hating or abusing all their demographic peers.
For every person who really wants a holy war there are a hundred who just want to get along with their own community. Forgive them. Cut them slack. Give them a way to save face. Don't indulge the them-or-us view. Don't hate them.

As I see it, there are people who benefit from us hating each other; these people are power hungry cynics who want to weaken everyone but themselves.

In today's social media world, they easily masquerade as extremists egging us on to mutual hatred. 

There are plenty of reasons in today's world to be angry at sincere people who are confused and do damage as a result. But they're not what's driving us off the cliff. It's hard to distinguish the cynics from the sincere, but it's suicidal to hate people who don't know they're lying. And even the cynics (not hard to think of one these days is it?) are less than whole people and in some ways deserve our sympathy.

I think maybe what I'm advocating is radical, extreme patience.
I have as much trouble living up to it as anyone. Cynical liars make my blood boil, and of course it's hard to tell who believes their own fabulations. It's easy to get into fights with people whose only goal is to defeat you by any means available. It's also easy to disengage.
But it's not enough to disengage, and it's counterproductive to exchange contempt for contempt.
It may be too late for these insights. Everyplace that isn't an autocracy is coming undone. The totalitarian friendly information environment that Arendt warned us about is upon us, and social media platforms are mostly profiting from it.
I can only hope for an international movement of reasonable, sane people, more motivated by love and awe than by anger, hatred, and contempt. I don't know why there isn't one, really.