Friday, April 29, 2011

Weaving our own safety net

The world of commerce is an important world. We need to participate and we need to reform if we want to feed hungry people. The world of politics is important--crucial--in seeing to the reform that can house homeless. But the beginning of all of that policy work starts in the heart and in our customs or it flops at the societal levels.

Tunisians, who launched the Arab Spring with their nonviolent ouster of kleptocratic US ally Ben Ali in January 2011, are teaching the world about this. The UN and nongovernmental aid organizations have watched in amazement as Tunisians, often of very modest means, embrace refugees from the violent insurgency and brutal backlash in Libya. Officials say this is unprecedented, generous, and has meant that the flood of Libyans have produced very small, not very large, refugee camps. The Tunisians just seem culturally tilted toward hospitality, even under serious duress. From a story in The New York Times by Scott Sayare:

Abdallah Awaye, 35, a thin, sun-darkened man and the owner of the house, described his gesture as a matter of obligation and pride. “This is how it is, these are our customs,” he said. “If there is something to eat, we will eat it together. If there is nothing to eat, we will have nothing together.”

What can we learn from this?

I'd ask this question: Is the reputation of the Tunisian people going to be higher or lower than the reputation of the US and NATO, as the former showed how nonviolence can bring down a decades-entrenched dictator and then how open-armed sharing can comfort those who flee from the natural result of a violent insurgency?

I'd also ask: Will the Tunisian people lose or gain by this strategy of opening homes, feeding people, and generally producing a throng of grateful guests rather than sullen refugees?

Research has shown that Darwin's dictum, the survival of the fittest, documents that collaboration is usually at least as fit as is physical strength and brutality. Yes, the shark is an ancient species, but so is the turtle. Yes, we have the Donald Trumps--in a speech to Republican women cheering him in Las Vegas he "said he wouldn’t help struggling nations such as South Korea or Libya without payment" (AP).

What are the relative costs and benefits of such behaviors and attitudes? I think nonviolence and violence as competing models of conflict management have complexities and considerations that, in the end, tip toward the evolutionary superiority of nonviolence. After all, even the shark doesn't produce massive radiological and chemical pollution that ruins its own habitat, but the war system is doing exactly that. Can we infuse our own culture with a generosity that once again attracts admiration around the world instead of the fear and loathing we seem to engender by our massive military?

AP (29 April 2011). Donald Trump calls leaders ‘stupid’ in profanity-laced stump speech in Las Vegas. Washington Post.

Sayare, Scott (28 April 2011). Thousands Fleeing Qaddafi Bask in Tunisia’s Hospitality. The New York Times.

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