21 March 2008

Pain begets pain

From a question once posed to one of my roleplay characters, I wrote:
    Would he kill a child to end world suffering? Perhaps that was entirely the wrong question. More appropriately, could he end world suffering? Could anyone?

    The answer to that, of course, was no. For when one put together any group of people, no matter how small, no matter how happy and carefree those people should be: they would find something to bicker about. They would make stuff up. Pick fights over trivialities, prove points about nothing. And always, always stubbornly oblivious to the other man's shoes.

    Sometimes the fences could be mended. But other times, perhaps even to the blame of no one, things spiralled out of control. Pain sprang from Nature, from ignorance and naiveté, misunderstandings and retaliations. Pain begat pain down unending chains, unless someone was strong enough to break free, sometimes (rarely) even turn it to joy.

    This was simply a fact of life, a part of being human. For as long as there were humans in the world, they would make each other suffer. There was nothing that any one human could do. There was no end to it and never could be for as long as humanity itself had no end. [16 Jun 2005]

I've long thought that human social interactions are fundamentally the same at every level. It all scales up and down the same, from two people to two nations. The larger the number of people involved, the less mature the participants seem to be.

In the beginning, A hurts B.

Could be on purpose or entirely by accident. Could be over a misunderstanding. B might've just been in the wrong place at the wrong time. A might even be a natural phenomenon (earthquake, hurricane, flood, etc.) rather than a person (or group of people).

What does B do?

B hurts A. A retaliatory move.

B hurts C. Perhaps C reminds B of A in some way, or perhaps C just happens to be the nearest convenient target. Or perhaps C was in the wrong place at the wrong time and caught some fallout from B hurting A.

Then what happens?

A and B begin a long series of bitter assaults of each other. Or, if they're reasonably mature adults, they might work out what went wrong and make amends, but this seems to be the less common approach.

C hurts B. And/or, C hurts D. The chain of pain begins.

These thoughts stirred up from reading this.


Nathan said...

I'm probably going in a completely different direction than you were leading, but:

Up until some time in the mid-late 70's, it was always pretty easy to see Israel as the good guys in their conflicts. They always were seen (by most people) as either directly defending themselves or retaliating for a clearly defined reason. Some time in the 80's this started to change and some of their actions started to look pre-emptive (is that a word), or petty or whatever. Their actions could be viewed (sometimes), as the acts of a powerful oppressor keeping a down-trodden group in their place.

I don't remember exactly when (maybe 5 or 6 years ago), there was a period of time when there were no Palestinian attacks for a few months. It was a long enough period of time that the absence of attacks was noticeable and notable. And then there was another bombing.

I remember thinking how much I wished that Israel would have said, "For years, the argument has been who did what to who first. We're going to break the cycle. We're not going to respond to this attack. If the violence continues after today, it will be clear who is responsible."

I don't know if that would have achieved anything, but I've always looked at it as an opportunity that was squandered.

Jeri said...

Boy, as a real-life illustration of the chain of pain, you are spot on, Nathan. And I'm sure you have a much more personal perspective on it than I, given your faith!

Anne C. said...

Great example, Nathan.

I know in my own life, I have tried to be aware of when I have been hurt and feel like hurting back. I mentally go through the rationale for why hurting back is rarely effective, and how acting the way I believe things should be is the first step in manifesting that. There is, however, a thorny voice that says that not retaliating is a dismissal/diminishment (?) of my feelings. The key is to express objection to the hurt without hurting back. And sometimes that is SO hard.

Nathan said...

Well, I think a sane person (or country) realizes that there are times where a proportionate response is appropriate. Hopefully some rational thought precedes any action.

OTOH, some attacks invite lashing out, which, although irrational is completely understandable.

MWT's right about it all being guided by the fact that we're all human. It's to be hoped that Governments could be a little more thoughtful before responding.

John the Scientist said...

Nathan - do you really believe that Arafat or his rivals would have responded appropriately to Israel's restraint?

I think that the Militant Palis would have seen it as a sign of weakness. Now if Hamas had renounced its call for the destruction of the State of Israel and then had a cease fire? Then both sides could have chosen to look at a new bombing as the work of a lone idiot.

Why are the US and UK not still at each other's throats over 1789 and 1812? Why are France and England not at each other's throats over 1756-63, 1789, and 1812? France and Germany over 1866, 1914-1917, and 1939-1945?

China and Japan don't like each other much, but other than the occasional boycott over Yasukuni or the chemical weapons Japan left in China and refuses to clean up, relations are pretty good.

Japanese and Koreans don't like each other a whole lot, but they still have economic relations and a pretty good track record (at least the ROK).


Because the cultures involved keep their batshit crazy elements under control. The peasant cultures who feel - rather than think - as a collective get into that cycle of violence, and even if one party grows up, the other will continue to assault it.

Look at Yugoslavia. Still largely peasant culture. Same in Iran - it's the minority urbanites who want change in Iran. DPRK? Launching missiles over Japan? Testing A-bopmbs? They are sliding slowly back into barbarism - and they celebrate the peasantry as the highest expression of their culture. Palestinian Authority - few other places put the half-educated Batshit Crazy into power so blatantly. There is no negotiating with such cultures.

Nathan said...

I didn't say negotiating and I acknowledged up front that I didn't know if it would have succeeded. It would, however "start the clock" again on "Who started it". There's some value in that, if for nothing other than swaying world opinion.

I also didn't say that it would be a pronouncement of a blanket and ongoing moratorium on retaliation.

John the Scientist said...

I'm not sure. The liberals in Europe will blame Israel no matter what. it's the old anti-Semitism wrapped in PC ideology.

Maybe it would carry a little weight over here.

Alcar said...

Hrm. I'm not sure it's a question of lack of maturity, per se, as much as the fact that at the larger levels people just don't feel personally responsible for things. The buck can always be passed, it can always be following orders/protocol and, well, it's the job you decided to to.

Being the guy who has to slash the budget for, say, funding homes for the poor, means you can't think about the people who won't get homes/end up homeless etc. because of what you're doing. Or, rather, you can, but then you need to leave and find a differerent job.

I suspect, charitably, that half the problem lies in the fact that, once you get out of the lower realms of interaction, you start to require a lot more compromises than you would have otherwise. The playing field is bigger, and you don't know the other party as well as the one friend/family and so forth.

You have no idea if you can trust them and, at some level, less concern for them because you don't know them. I sometimes wonder if we confuse maturity with the hard kind of pragmatism and necessary evils that come out of the larger systems our society creates.