Enemies or Allies?

Posted on 2012 September 10


There are a lot of simmering conflicts out there: Catholics versus Protestants; capitalists versus socialists; East versus West; industrialized versus non-aligned; Muslim versus Christian; China versus the world. Everybody versus the Jews.

And let’s not forget Black versus White, conservative versus liberal, the battle of the sexes, technology versus Old School. And, most crucial of all … Dodgers versus Giants.

“But Catholics and Protestants get along these days.” Not in Northern Ireland, they don’t. And let’s face it: the Christians who worship in a different denomination? Privately they think you’re going to Hell.

Especially Mormons.

Now imagine how much worse is the gulf between, say, Christians and Muslims, and you begin to get the idea. We’re way intolerant of each other!

It’s genetic. We’re wired to be suspicious of outsiders, who could bring disease and other calamities to our tribal villages. But now we’ve moved into gigantic cities where all our little sects and subgroups are crammed together … and everybody else is doing it wrong!

I remember, as a kid, feeling fiercely loyal to Chevrolets simply because my dad always got one for the family. Chevys, good! Fords, bad! Turns out his company handed cars to its officers, turning them over every few years for newer models, and they must have gotten a nice fleet rate from GM. If they had provided Fords, I’d have been a Ford zealot.

Why do people hate Jews? Everywhere they live, they bring prosperity to the local community. They have exactly the “family values” everyone wants to encourage, like close-knit ties, education, hard work, and building for the future. What’s not to like? Unfortunately they killed Jesus, so that tears it. (Any thorough-going Christian would realize that Jesus stage-managed his own execution, and, if he hadn’t deliberately tweaked the nose of the local rabbis, there’d be no Christianity today.) But think about it: Christians are basically Jews who think the Messiah was already here. (And, by the way, Mormons are basically Christians whose Bible has a few added chapters.) Sure, there are differences. And we can debate them forever. But there’s a lot more commonality than we assume.

Now, just try telling this stuff to a God-fearing Baptist or Lutheran or Congregational, who’ll simply stick fingers in his ears and say, “LA-LA-LA-LA-LA!” (If you bring this stuff up with Catholics, the bright ones go all Jesuit on you and present arcane and elaborate arguments to prove you’re wrong. Which I happen to enjoy more than the fingers-in-ears routine, but never mind.)

Then there’s the Battle of the Sexes. Our cultures contain loud conversations about how men and women are part-time enemies who struggle for supremacy within marriages, at the job site, and elsewhere. Each side complains about the traits of the other: “He never listens!” “She hates sports!” “He won’t take out the trash!” “She always has a headache!”

It’s hard to get out of that mindset. So don’t beat yourself up too much. But do think about this, because we’re going to go somewhere with it.

What if, for example, men and women, instead of regarding each other as exotic, slightly dangerous members of another species, saw each other as allies whose very strengths and weaknesses made them perfect as teammates? Men have more brute strength while women can endure more pain. Women tend to listen better while men have no problem getting up to their elbows in mechanical grease. Men rush to the ramparts while women send out the diplomats. They’re a natural fit for each other. (Pardon the pun.) Imagine how great your relationship with your mate would be if you had that profound sense of alignment together. Perhaps some of you do. It’s not impossible at all.

Are you with me so far? Because we can play this game with other “enemy groups”. Christians and Muslims share much of the same early religious culture, and though Muslims tend to differ with the West about the place of religion in government, they agree with a lot of what Europe and America take for granted. They tuck their kids in at night, they give each other gifts, and they help each other in emergencies. They’re actual human beings, not knuckle-dragging simians like we prefer to think.

Mormons and Muslims, in fact, have found common ground, trading pointers on managing religion in public life, improving family relationships, and discouraging alcohol in their communities. (And, I assume, Mormons inculcate Muslims with the wonders of Jell-O.)

There’s a lot of hidden potential for cooperation between the West and the Middle East. If we can settle the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, about eighty percent of the animosity between us and them will go away. That’s a big IF, of course. But let’s not simply give up and stay angry with each other. After all, they have oil, we have tech: everybody should be blissfully happy. Yet we’re all cranky, looking for trouble with each other. Seems kinda silly to me.

Of course always there will be points of conflict in the world, places where one group will slam up against another and tempers will get short. We live in crowded cities on a crowded planet, and it’s time for a better approach. The knee-jerk anger toward The Other worked just fine in the past, but it’s obsolete today.

All we have to do is stop regarding these other folks as sub-human. I know, I know, telling someone to be tolerant is, for many of us, like saying, “Stick a needle in your eye.” It’s exciting to be indignant, to hate those damned bastards, to want to throttle them. The feeling of self-righteousness is almost addictive in the intense pleasure it imparts. And that’s our DNA talking, turning us into soldiers who march unthinkingly into battle to protect the village gene pool. Except the pool is now worldwide, and what we need is precisely the diversity we used to hate.

Our DNA also provides us with a huge forebrain that can reconfigure our default settings. It’s time to move the dial in our heads from Intolerant to Ecumenical, to toggle the switch from Suspicion to Openness, to move the slider from Cornered to Possibilities.

Or we can continue to behave like tribal barbarians trapped inside modern cities and nations, waving our arms angrily and hurling invective — and then ordnance — at each other until we go from brainless to brain-dead. It’s our choice. Humans have the wherewithal to do better.

…But we Dodger fans will never accept the Giants. Forget it!