Tuesday, July 29, 2008

US vs Them

I heard an interesting review of a new book that is out making the claim that the conservative mindset on foreign policy (the Us vs Them mentality) has weakened America's national security over the past half century because it treated foreign nations that may pose a threat to America as "evil enemies" that can not be negotiated with, rather than nations seeking power and having interests/cultures other than our own.

What is so striking to me about this description, is how similar it is to the way the traditional environmentalist movement has viewed industry in this country -- and rural areas or occupations like farming that oppose their viewpoint.

Some of the same people who would argue passionately for why we must negotiate with Iran to avoid nuclear war fail to see that negotiation is needed with parts of their own country and the economy that don't ascribe to the typical command-and-control environmental policies they support. While folks on the left often understand well that care is needed in terms of how you talk to a foreign country (including the terms that are used and trust-building, good-faith gestures that are needed), they don't take that same care with their fellow countrymen who see the world differently. All too often, traditional environmental politics sees their opponents as pollution-loving, "haters" rather than recognizing that they have grown up with an entirely different world view.

Now - I know that there are plenty of conservatives who have refused to be open to new ways of thinking about the environment -- failing to see how renewable energy can be a key engine in growing the economy . . . refusing to recognize the immensely challenging energy and pollution problems facing our country.

Certainly, neither political point of view has the monopoly on closed-mindedness.

I've traveled all around the U.S. and much of the world -- and it is crystal clear to me that America is actually made up of several different countries combined together. The cultures of the Northeast, the South, the Midwest, the West and California -- are all substantially different from one another -- to the extent that what seems obvious and "righteous" to one region is baffling and ridiculed by others.

Perhaps we'd get much further on environmental and energy issues if we recognized the very real cultural differences that exist within the U.S. and negotiated them out rather than trying to control and demonize other parts of the country through the 30 second attack ad.

Both the political left and the political right have developed very good narratives that explain why the other side is wrong, stupid, evil. Casting aspersions on "the other" is easy -- and as we have discussed here before, is a GREAT way to raise funds and power. But NONE of that ego-based hot air ever solved a problem over the long run.

Surely, negotiating with our fellow countrymen and women -- as different as we all are from one another, can not be more difficult than negotiating with cultures that share little of our collective values? All it really takes is an open heart, a willingness to really listen and the ability to compromise for the greater good. Here's hoping there's more of that on the horizon -- both on the international and the domestic fronts.

Sara

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