Saturday, July 02, 2005

Must reads

Two excellent op-eds in today's Times.

In Make Way for Angels Patricia Nelson Limerick proposes new national holidays, such as Take a Deep Breath Day.

Take a Deep Breath Day will involve a simple activity: when we do not succeed at saying exactly what we mean in certifiably inoffensive terms, our fellow citizens will forswear the usual fun of pouncing and denouncing, and give us a second chance.

Another is Blame Day:
It will be your civic obligation to spend this day blaming each and every person you encounter. On Blame Day, no one will take responsibility for anything, and everyone will devote the day to accusing everyone else of being the source of our afflictions.

Of course, you are now wondering how we will distinguish Blame Day from every other day of our lives. Here is the difference: on this holiday, you have to alternate speaking and listening. Everyone you speak to will be blaming you for everything, but then your accuser has to keep quiet while you return the favor.
Ms. Limerick notes that, "Feeling pure, self-righteous, smug and nestled in the company of the likeminded is one of humanity's greatest natural highs." Sadly, so true.

Then there is John Tierney's 'Get Out, You Damned One'.

The natural impulse to dislike outsiders is so strong that it barely matters who the outsiders are.

When experimental psychologists divide subjects into purely arbitrary groups - by the color of their eyes, their taste in art, the flip of a coin - the members of a group quickly become so hostile to the other group that they'll try to deny rewards to the outsiders even at a cost to themselves.

And when the members of a group really have something in common, like family ties, they're willing to fight outsiders even if it means their own deaths. Xenophobia produced genetic rewards for hunter-gatherer clans. When the evolutionary psychologist J. B. S. Haldane was asked whether he would lay down his life for his brother, he replied, "No, but I would to save two brothers or eight cousins."

Iraqis have their own version of that line: "My brother and I against my cousin; my cousin and I against the world."
This makes so much sense. These people are not going to give up. Why can't the Bush administration admit they got us into a huge mess?

Tierny's last paragraph was especially poignant to me :

During the Civil War, Union soldiers were amazed to see poor Southerners without any stake in the slavery system defending it in suicidal charges. But there was a simple explanation, as a barefoot, emaciated Confederate captivefamously put it when a Union soldier asked him why he kept fighting: "Because you're here."


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