A problem in my thinking

There’s a little thought exercise I’ve been struggling with lately. Back at the beginning of October, there was a news story going around about an interview that Ann Coulter did an interview with Donny Deutsch. At one point during the interview, she said that “. . . we [Christians] just want Jews to be perfected, as they say.” Needless to say, a bunch of Jewish groups didn’t much care for her philosophy and decried it in the press.

The most referenced copy of the transcript that I’ve found online is at Media Matters. (You’d think cnbc.com would have it, but they’ve just got video here.)

I didn’t much care for Coulter’s philosophy either, but in a more general way. The conversation she was having with Deutsch was about what an America where all of her hopes and dreams were realized would look like. She said it would look like the 2004 Republican convention in New York city, where everyone is happy, everyone supports America, and everyone is Republican and Christian. She said that’s what she thought heaven would be like.

That’s doesn’t really offend me, but I do think it’s naive. There are (at least) two solutions to the problem of having a diverse environment where people do not get a long. One is to get everyone to have the same basic values and ideas, so that there’s no serioius conflict of opinion. That’s Coulter’s vision. The other is to create some kind of system that everyone buys into to handle disputes and conflicts. Or, to put it in the most general terms, you can eliminate diversity, or you can compensate for it.

The ultimate goal in this thought experiment is to conceive of a world of people where there is peace and happiness. But people are prone to disagreement and conflict.

I think Coulter’s vision is naive because I believe that in any sufficiently large system, homogeneity is an unstable condition. If you have a big country where everyone speaks one language, after a while dialects will develop, and after that the dialects will become different languages. The same kind of differentiation happens in all sorts of large-scale systems. You might be able to get the world to a point where everyone shares the same political views and religion and so forth, but that environment won’t hold. People will develop different interpretations of political ideas and religious tenants, and eventually you’ll be back to the same condition we’ve currently got.

I think there’s a better chance of achieving the goal by getting everyone to buy into a system of laws that are designed to arbitrate conflicts – which is pretty much the way the world seems to be developing, just really, really slowly. But how do you handle individuals or groups that refuse to buy into the system? This is where I’m having a problem with the concept.

If there’s a group that’s only going to be happy if, say, they overthrow all the other groups and take all of their goodies, then obviously they’re not going to work out as members of the bigger system. So how do you keep peace and happiness? Don’t let people hold those values? Fat chance. Use force to keep them from overthrowing all the other groups? Well, that might make most of the people happy, but you’ve still got a group of malcontents who are grumbling and angry and looking for a way to get what they want.

Like I said, I’ve been struggling with these ideas and turning them over in my mind for a while. No great breakthroughs yet, but I’m still trying to define and articulate the problem. If I can clearly do that, I think it’ll be possible to analyze the problem more fully.

*ahem* Yeah, and I did some knitting yesterday. :-) Ever so slowly making progress on the Sooper Seekrit Projekt and it feels *wonderful*.

No Responses to “A problem in my thinking”

  1. Jill Smith Says:

    Based on what I’ve seen of Ann Coulter, she would be miserable in the society she describes. She thrives on the reactions she gets from name-calling and baiting.

  2. janna Says:

    The answer is that everyone should knit. Maybe we should send Ann Coulter some needles (except, of course, I wouldn’t trust her with pointy sticks).

  3. Anne Says:

    Perhaps it’s naive of me to think this but if the kind of system to mediate conflict you posit were to ever develop, I think people who don’t initially buy into it would eventually find a way to or die out – of natural causes I mean. I’m really not explaining my thoughts well today, I should probably eat.

  4. Wendy Says:

    All that and he can think, too!

    I agree with you that the US, and Western society in general is trending in that direction, and that that’s a very good thing.

    We Americans talk a lot about bringing Democracy to the world, but we usually just mean “the right to vote on your leaders.” However, there are numerous nations that have free elections, and are still repressive. I wish that, instead, our country would work harder to export our values of religious freedom and tolerance, sexual equality, racial equality, and diversity and peace-enhancing values.

    A dictatorship in a tolerant, diverse society would be better for mankind than the most fair election in a repressive society.

  5. Cassie Says:

    I think you’re underestimating the value of a widespread celebration of diversity. It would take a few generations, but a society that simply doesn’t accept intolerance and recognizes minority members as members the same as anyone else is going to breed more tolerant people by necessity. I live in the South, and I do see this in a small way — even the redneck sons of good ol’ boys have more tolerance than their fathers for (f’rex) homosexuality, simply because it’s been a fact of life that they’ve grown up with. Certainly this isn’t universal — heaven knows I have a good understanding of how widespread the various isms are in the South, and there’s plenty of heterosexism among ’em — but I have found that I’ve run into more apathy regarding sexual preference than I expected to among the younger set.

    Also, hi!. I’ve been reading for a while but am not sure I’ve commented before.

  6. Becca Says:

    That’s an intriguing line of thinking, and so far, it makes a lot of sense.
    Thanks for writing it down and sharing with us. And keep us posted as it evolves.

    An analogy in microcosm might be obeying the rules of the road while driving. Most of us obey most of the laws most of the time because the alternative is to not get to our destinations in one piece.
    But that doesn’t mean we love all our fellow-drivers or agree philosophically with the traffic/insurance/property tax laws.

  7. Anne Says:

    Wendy said: “I wish that, instead, our country would work harder to export our values of religious freedom and tolerance, sexual equality, racial equality, and diversity and peace-enhancing values.”

    And I just have to ask – Wendy, do you really think we have these? While we’re certainly better off in some respects than many places in the world, our culture is built upon a foundation of inequality and we close our eyes to the funtioning inequalities around us. We ignore them or try to explain them away. But they’re there. True, none of us are being massacred because we’re different than those in power, but there are a million kinds of discrimination happening every day in little ways.

    And peace enhancing? Who do you think started the wars we’re participating in right now in Iraq & Afghanistan? We have a higher level of non-wartime domestic violence than any other nation in the world and you think we’re peace enhancing?

  8. Pihoqahiaq Says:

    I think it is amazing that you took what was a polarising commentary and exchange between Ms. Coulter and Donny Deutsch and made it into something thought provoking and much more constructive. I’m a long time lurker, always enjoying your journey and the description thereof. You are just too neat for colour television. >.

  9. Amanda Says:

    Well there you go gettin’ all philosophical and whatnot. 😉 It sounds like you’re struggling with Utilitarianism. I could be way off base here, but I might be onto something…

    And to further dig my hole to total dorkdom, I’ll recommend some reading. Peter Singer’s The Expanding Circle: Ethics and Sociobiology is the first that comes to mind. I believe Bertrand Russell and Immanuel Kant also had ideas about Utilitarianism. I’ve probably got some stuff laying around if you’re interested in reading it (I just can’t seem to part with old textbooks).

  10. Pippy Says:

    Hey! I haven’t been by the Sweaty Project in a while and I miss out on the stimulating political discussion! How did it happen??
    There are two solutions I can see here- first of all, Ann Coulter’s ass should be put on a raft and left to drift out to sea somewhere near the Arctic Circle. Hope fully she would encounter hungry polar bears pissed about global warming and eager for revenge on anyone human even before hypothermia set in.
    My solution- well, its complex but in a nutshell (cuz its a little bit nutty!) small, sustainable, leaderless communities based on mutual aid. Respect for the earth and her critters, a gift-based economy where everyone contributes according to their abilities and everyone benefits according to their needs (to paraphrase someone else!) Re-wilding. The death of the capitalist system and the consumerist lifestyle with its competition for a (false) scarcity of resources. No gods, no masters. No Ann Coulter.
    My recommended reading, while I am on my soapbox- Derrick Jensen (there’s a link on the Knit-a-Log) and John Zerzan,
    Down I go from the soapbox now!