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Location: UFOUpDatesList.Com > 2007 > Jan > Jan 7

Slightly Off-Topic But Only Slightly

From: Michael Woods <mike.woods.nul>
Date: Sun, 7 Jan 2007 09:59:11 -0500
Fwd Date: Sun, 07 Jan 2007 15:02:05 -0500
Subject: Slightly Off-Topic But Only Slightly

Hello Listers,

I usually prefer to lurk rather than enter the discussion, but
I've come across something that I thought should be widely

In the afterword of his latest novel, sci-fi writer Orson Scott
Card looks at the current state of political rhetoric in the
U.S. His observations are not only applicable to Canadian
politics, but go beyond that and cover almost ALL public
discussion today, including here on the List and hot-button
issues such as global warming.

I apologize for its length but not its content.

Mike Woods


Science-Fiction writer Orson Scott Cardís latest novel, Empire,
is about a Second American revolution, in the very near future.
In it, both Right and Left are manipulated into revolution,
allowing one man to become Emperor, in the manner that ancient
Rome was changed from a republic to an Empire. In the afterword,
he discusses the current state of public discourse and U.S.

Because the U.S. hasnít had a civil war in the past fourteen
decades, people think we can't have one now. Where is the
geographic clarity of the Mason-Dixon line? When you look at the
red-state blue-state division in the past few elections, you get
a false impression. The real division is urban, academic, and
high-tech counties versus sub-urban, rural, and conservative
Christian counties. How could such widely scattered "blue"
centers and such centerless "red" populations ever act in

Geography aside, however, we have never been so evenly divided
with such hateful rhetoric since the years leading up to the
Civil War of the 1860s. Because the national media elite are so
uniformly progressive, we keep hearing (in the elite media)
about the rhetorical excesses of the "extreme right." To hear
the same media, there is no "extreme left," just the occasional
progressive who says things he or she shouldn't.

But any rational observer has to see that the Left and Right in

America are screaming the most vile accusations at each other
all the time. We are fully polarized - if you accept one idea
that sounds like it belongs to either the blue or the red. you
are assumed - nay, required - -to espouse the entire rest of the
package, even though there is no reason why supporting the war
against terrorism should imply you're in favor of banning all
abortions and against restricting the availability of firearms,
no reason why being in favor of keeping government-imposed
limits on the free market should imply you also are in favor of
giving legal status to homosexual couples and against building
nuclear reactors. These issues are not remotely related, and yet
if you hold any of one group's views, you are hated by the other
group as if you believed them all; and if you hold most of one
group's views, but not all, you are treated as if you were a
traitor for deviating even slightly from the party line.

It goes deeper than this. however. A good working definition of
fanaticism is that you are so convinced of your views and
policies that you are sure anyone who opposes them must either
be stupid and deceived or have some ulterior motive. We are
today a nation where almost everyone in the public eye displays
fanaticism with every utterance.

It is part of human nature to regard as sane those people who
share the worldview of the majority of society. Somehow, though,
we have managed to divide ourselves into two different, mutually
exclusive sanities. The people in each society reinforce each
 other in madness, believing unsubstantiated ideas that are
often contradicted not only by each other but also by whatever
objective evidence exists on the subject. Instead of having an
ever-adapting civilization-wide consensus reality, we have
become a nation of insane people able to see the madness only in
the other side.

Does this lead, inevitably, to civil war? Of course not - though
it's hardly conducive to stable government or the long-term
continuation of democracy. What inevitably arises from such
division is the attempt by one group, utterly convinced of its
rectitude, to use all coercive forces available to stamp out the
opposing views.

Such an effort is, of course, a confession of madness.
Suppression of other people's beliefs by force only comes about
when you are deeply afraid that your own beliefs are wrong and
you are desperate to keep anyone from challenging them. Oh, you
may come up with rhetoric about how you are suppressing them for
their own good or for the good of others, but people who are
confident of their beliefs are content merely to offer and
teach, not compel.

The impulse toward coercion takes whatever forms are available.

In academia, it consists of the denial of degrees, jobs, or
tenure to people with nonconformist opinions. Ironically, the
people who are most relentless in eliminating competing ideas
congratulate themselves on their tolerance and diversity. In
most situations, it is less formal, consisting of shunning - but
the shunning usually has teeth in it. Did Mel Gibson, when in
his cups, say something that reflects his upbringing in an anti-
Semitic household? Then he is to be shunned - which in Hollywood
will mean he can never be considered for an Oscar and will have
a much harder time getting prestige,as opposed to money, roles.

It has happened to me, repeatedly, from both the Left and the
Right. It is never enough to disagree with me - I must be banned
from speaking at a particular convention or campus; my writings
should be boycotted; anything that will punish me for my
concompliance and, if possible, impoverish me and my family.

So virulent are these responses - again, from both the Left and
the Right - that I believe it is only a short step to the
attempt to use the power of the state to enforce one's views. On
the right we have attempts to use the government to punish flag
burners and to enforce state-sponsored praying. On the left, we
have a ban on free speech and peaceable public assembly in front
of abortion clinics and the attempt to use the power of the
state to force the acceptance of homosexual relationships as
equal to marriages.

Each side feels absolutely justified in compelling others to
accept their views.

It is Puritanism, not in its separatist form, desiring to live
by themselves by their own rules, but in its Cromwellian form,
using the power of the state to enforce the dicta of one group
throughout the wider society, by force rather than persuasion.

This despite the historical fact that the civilization that has
created more prosperity and freedom for more people than ever
before is one based on tolerance and pluralism, and that
attempts to force one religion (theistic or atheistic) on the
rest of a nation or the world inevitably lead to misery,
poverty, and, usually, conflict.

Yet we seem only able to see the negative effects of coercion
caused by the other team. Progressives see the danger of
allowing fanatical religions (which, by some definitions, means
"all of them")to have control of government - they need only
point to Iran, Saudi Arabia, the Taliban, or, in a more general
and milder sense, the entire Muslim world, which is oppressed
precisely to the degree that Islam is enforced as the state

Conservatives, on the other hand, see the danger of allowing
fanatical atheistic religions to have control of government,
pointing to Nazi Germany and all Communist nations as obvious
examples of political utopianism run amok.

Yet neither side can see any connection between their own
fanaticism and the historical examples that might apply to them.
People insisting on a Christian America simply cannot comprehend
that others view them as the Taliban-in-waiting; those who
insist on progressive exclusivism in America are outraged at any
comparison between them and Communist totalitarianism. Even as
they shun or fire or deny tenure to those who disagree with
them, everybody thinks it's the other guy who would be the
oppressor, while our side would simply "set things to rights."

Rarely do people set out to start a civil war. Invariably, when
such wars break out both sides consider themselves to be the
aggrieved ones. Right now in America, even though the Left has
control of all the institutions of cultural power and prestige -
universities, movies, literary publishing, mainstream
journalism - as well as the federal courts, they feel themselves
oppressed and threatened by traditional religion and
conservatism. And even though the Right controls both houses of
Congress and the presidency, as well as having ample outlets for
their views in nontraditional media and an ever increasing
dominance over American religious and economic life, they feel
themselves oppressed and threatened by the cultural dominance of
the Left.

And they are threatened, just as they are also threatening,
because nobody is willing to accept the simple idea that someone
can disagree with their group and still be a decent human being
worthy of respect.

Can it lead to war?

Very simply, yes. The moment one group feels itself so aggrieved
that it uses either its own weapons or the weapons of the state
to "prevent" the other side from bringing about its supposed
"evil" designs, then that other side will have no choice but to
take up arms against them. Both sides will believe the other to
be the instigator.

The vast majority of people will be horrified - but they will
also be mobilized whether they like it or not.

It's the lesson of Yugoslavia and Rwanda. If you were a Tutsi
just before the Rwandan holocaust who did not hate Hutus, who
married a Hutu, who hired Hutus or taught school to Hutu
students, it would not have stopped Hutus from taking machetes
to you and your family. You would have had only two choices: to
die or to take up arms against the Hutus, whether you had
previously hated them or not.

But it went further. Knowing they were doing a great evil, the
Hutus who conducted the pogroms also killed any Hutus who were
"disloyal" enough to try to oppose taking up arms.

Likewise in Yugoslavia. For political gain, Serbian leaders in
the post-Tito government maintained a drumbeat of Serbian
manifest-destiny propaganda, which openly demonized Croatian and
Muslim people as a threat to good Serbs. When Serbs in Bosnia
took up arms to "protect themselves" from being ruled by a
Muslim majority - and were sponsored and backed by the Serbian
government - what choice did a Bosnian Muslim have but to take
up arms in self-defense? Thus both sides claimed to be acting in
self-defense, and in short order, they were.

And as both Rwanda and Bosnia proved, clear geographical
divisions are not required in order to have brutal, bloody civil
wars. All that is required is that both sides come to believe
that if they do not take up arms, the other side will destroy

In America today, we are complacent in our belief that it can't
happen here. We forget that America is not an ethnic nation,
where ancient ties of blood can bind people together despite

We are created by ideology; ideas are our only connection. And
because today we have discarded the free marketplace of ideas
and have polarized ourselves into two equally insane ideologies,
so that each side can, with perfect accuracy, brand the other
side as madmen, we are ripe for that next step, to take
preventive actionto keep the other side from seizing power and
oppressing our side.

The examples are - or should be - obvious. That we are generally
oblivious to the excesses of our own side merely demonstrates
how close we already are to a paroxysm of self-destruction.

We are waiting for Fort Sumter.

I hope it doesn't come.

Meanwhile, however, there is this novel, in which I try to show
characters who struggle to keep from falling into the insanity -
 yet who also try to prevent other people's insanity from
destroying America. This book is fiction. It is entertainment. I
do not believe a new American civil war is inevitable; and if it
did happen, I do not believe it would necessarily take the form
I show in this book, politically or militarily. Since the war
depicted in these pages has not happened, I am certainly not
declaring either side in our polarized public life guilty of
causing it. I only say that for the purposes of this story, we
have this set of causes; in the real world, if we should ever be
so stupid as to allow a civil war to happen again, we would
obviously have a different set of specific causes.

We live in a time when people like me, who do not wish to choose
either camp's ridiculous, inconsistent, unrelated ideology, are
being forced to choose - and to take one whole absurd package or
the other.

We live in a time when moderates are treated worse than
extremists, being punished as if they were more fanatical than
the actual fanatics.

We live in a time when lies are preferred to the truth and
truths are called lies, when opponents are assumed to have the
worst conceivable motives and treated accordingly, and when we
reach immediately for coercion without even bothering to find
out what those who disagree with us are actually saying.

In short, we are creating for ourselves a new dark age - the
darkness of blinders we voluntarily wear, and which, if we do
not take them off and see each other as human beings with
legitimate, virtuous concerns, will lead us to tragedies whose
cost we will bear for generations.

Or, maybe, we can just calm down and stop thinking that our own
ideas are so precious that we must never give an inch to
accommodate the heartfelt beliefs of others.

How can we accomplish that? It begins by scorning the voices of
extremism from the camp we are aligned with. Democrats and
Republicans must renounce the screamers and haters from their
own side instead of continuing to embrace them and denouncing
only the screamers from the opposing camp. We must moderate
ourselves instead of insisting on moderating the other guy while
keeping our own fanaticism alive.

In the long run, the great mass of people who simply want to get
on with their lives can shape a peaceful future. But it requires
that they actively pursue moderation and reject extremism on
every side, and not just on one. Because it is precisely those
ordinary people, who don't even care all that much about the
issues, who will end up suffering the most from any conflict
that might arise.


Pray there's intelligent life somewhere out in space;
There's bugger all down here on Earth.

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