Thursday, May 05, 2011

Binary logic

To political ideologues, everything is ones and zeros. You're with us or you're with the terrorists. You're with us or you're a communist. You're with us or you're a tool of the US. It's the same, left or right. They use the Manichean cataloging approach. Yes or no. Up or down. Good or evil. Favored or attacked.

Joe McCarthy had his day in the smearing spotlight, tarring dissidents as communist fifth columnists. Stalin was so paranoid he was susceptible to a little plot to plant rumors by Hitler about the loyalty of Stalin's officials and military leaders, which resulted in Stalin's campaign to root out anyone who might betray him, with a long string of killings as a result. When we opposed the war in Vietnam we were branded as commies or commie dupes. Same thing when we wanted nuclear disarmament. When Ahmadinijad was confronted by civil society rising up in the Green Revolution he claimed that it was a velvet revolution engineered by the West. When Marcos was confronted by the same he called them communist or Muslim extremist (Stephan & Chenoweth, 2008). All opponents of Robert Mugabe in Zimbabwe are labeled as traitors and useful idiots of racist colonialists. Civil society, rising up against the corruption of the royals in Bahrain, are traduced as instruments of Ahmadinijad. An increasingly diverse civil society opposition to Hugo Chavez in Venezuela are lumped together as counter-revolutionary agents of the US.

The examples are endless of course, including the famous analysis from Reichsmarschall Hermann Wilhelm Göring, offered in a jail cell interview with Gustave Gilbert during the Nuremberg trials in 1946:

Interview in Göring's cell (3 January 1946)

* Göring: Why, of course, the people don't want war. Why would some poor slob on a farm want to risk his life in a war when the best that he can get out of it is to come back to his farm in one piece. Naturally, the common people don't want war; neither in Russia nor in England nor in America, nor for that matter in Germany. That is understood. But, after all, it is the leaders of the country who determine the policy and it is always a simple matter to drag the people along, whether it is a democracy or a fascist dictatorship or a Parliament or a Communist dictatorship.
Gilbert: There is one difference. In a democracy, the people have some say in the matter through their elected representatives, and in the United States only Congress can declare wars.
Göring: Oh, that is all well and good, but, voice or no voice, the people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. That is easy. All you have to do is tell them they are being attacked and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger. It works the same way in any country.

Binary logic of denouncing all opponents as a hated category--and that category is ultimately The Traitors, no matter what other label is slapped on--is stock and trade of the conflict industry. The conflict industry are the elites who profit from conflict in wealth, status or power, or some combination of the three (Daniels & Walker, 2001).

Learning to deconstruct false charges is as important an analytical skill as is learning to recognize actual conspiracy. Leaping to conclusions will be done by those who see monolithic forces at work everywhere. Unless we can learn to see the diversity and rainbow nature of humankind we will be susceptible to the manipulations of the Görings, the Bushs, the Ahmadinijads, the Chavezes, the Mugabes and the Marcoses. History shows that it sometimes catches up with them, but they cause lots of damage until they are caught, and some never are, which is a pity.

Daniels, Steve E., & Walker, Greg B. (2001). Working through environmental conflict: The collaborative learning approach. Westport CT: Praeger.

Stephan, Maria J.; Chenoweth, Erica (2008). Why civil resistance works: The strategic logic of nonviolent conflict. International Security, Vol. 33, No. 1 (Summer 2008), pp. 7–44.

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