Thursday, February 25, 2010

Pavlovian Politics

I am white.
I am American.
I am from New York.
I am from the upper middle class. (Let's be honest).

Given these circumstances, I realized recently that I have certain uncontrollable associations built into my psyche that I believe are a product of my environment and took root during my "developing" years. There are things that are so ingrained in me, that I don't question them nor do I know their exact derivations.

Here are a few examples:
Socialism = Communism
Communism = Bad
Russia = Bad
Socialism = Bad
Israel-Palestine = "It's too complicated to understand"
Hezbollah = Terrorists (ohhh... that needs some 'splaining!)
Republicans = Wrong (despite the fact that both of my parents are of the Republican-ish leaning)
Religion and Politics = Personal info

I've got a funny way of illustrating my admittedly vague point: I played a lot of video games as a kid. In one of the games, the developers, for whatever reason, occasionally put posters of Karl Marx in the game environment. It had nothing to do with the game itself and was probably a gag or inside joke. But, while playing the game, I would shoot the posters of Marx at any given opportunity. At that time, I couldn't identify Marx by face. I had no idea what "Marxism" meant and I didn't know who was depicted in those posters. But I knew that those posters had something to do with Russia (eh, sorta right), that he had a big white beard, and I knew that he was "bad" -- so I shot Marx between the eyes at every opportunity.
[Note: Before you ask, the game was Goldeneye, and the posters were on the "Library" level, I think.]
Now, why? Why did I shoot pictures of Karl Marx, a philosopher? Because something inside me, something innate, something primal, told me that he was the "enemy". I knew it. I didn't know who he was or what his ideas were, but I "knew" that they were wrong.

I think this problem exists in most adults today.

Let's take a really extreme example that I am not qualified to be writing about, but it made me raise my eyebrows: Hezbollah. Immediate response = Islamic fundamentalist terrorists.

But what do I know? Are they?
The answer is, well, not what I expected. Without getting into the history too much (maybe this will inspire you to do that research on your own and come up with your own conclusions), I can say that Hezbollah started in 1982 in response to Israel's invasion of Lebanon. From 1985-1992, they fought the Israelis a lot and killed a lot of Israelis and the Israelis killed a lot of them. In 1992, they entered the Lebanese elections. They admitted that eventually, sure, they want an Islamic state, but that can only come through the electoral process (!). Their support comes mostly from the Shiites in the south who use the Hezbollah financed hospitals and other social services (!). They still fight the Israelis a lot.

Islamic fundamentalists? Well, not the kind that I picture when the words "Islamic fundamentalist" appear. Do they use suicide bombs? Nope. They are politicians and an anti-Israeli militia, basically. Are they terrorists? Man, you better know exactly what you are talking about before you start throwing around that word. Again, I feel like most people would never challenge their base assumption and would rather throw themselves into fits of patriotic frenzy instead of analysing the facts. (I'm not qualified to give an ultimate answer on this question). Doing research requires thought and patience, both of which are in low supply today.

My point has nothing to do with Hezbollah. It's just this: challenge your basic assumptions. Acknowledge them, question them, educate yourself, then reconsider.

1 comment:

KMarian said...


'Nuff said.