On Conflict

This orig­i­nally appeared on mis​ter​agye​man​.blogspot​.com on September 2, 2014.

What’s so funny about peace, love and under­stand­ing? It does­n’t stand a chance, unless we all get some at once. Kind of like the Swedish with their Dagen H.

When did they real­ize all their traf­fic lights now faced the wrong way? 

In every other sce­nario, the first peace­ful, loving, under­stand­ing person gets mis­un­der­stood. Caring friends and family prob­a­bly go, “Oh, that was a joke!” while shep­herd­ing our friend into a corner to advise them to drop the Doormat persona.

Our specie’s story is largely told in strug­gle. We kill to sur­vive. We’re always fight­ing: dis­ease, the ele­ments, grav­ity, time. We make build­ings to shut out the wildlife – the neigh­bours, even. We admire people who cheat age and death. Where would the world be with­out con­flict? Change is always a tri­umph of new over old. It seems part of nat­ural law that the need for change must first dawn on a minor­ity, and have its effects trans­mit­ted force­fully to the rest. Even non-vio­lent move­ments com­mu­ni­cate dis­sat­is­fac­tion. Esperanto, for all its inspir­ing naiveté, couldn’t go where Newspeak went. So you can’t really ask for change, with­out asking for struggle.

“Riddelum, bri­dlelum, into the fray” – I found an essay on Tagore’s work and this line jumped out at me. We do approach war with a lot of vim. A quiet meadow is nice in small doses, but after a while you begin to see why the locals spend Saturdays in the city. When there’s no war, young people go bungee jump­ing to compensate.

People look sheep­ish now when you men­tion the Arab Spring. First the Libya bomb­ings, then Egypt’s Al-Sisi régime, and now the Islamic State. Thing is, how many of us looked ahead for an end-game? The media is taking another look at slack­tivists like me, and the judge­ments have been sharp­ened by expe­ri­ence and hard data. Perhaps it’s not so bad when your click some­how trans­lates into a cure for cancer, but that’s dif­fer­ent from aiding a rev­o­lu­tion on Twitter. Without the phys­i­cal invest­ment, how many of us check the facts – what is hap­pen­ing; what kind of change is promised; what’s the damage? I know I didn’t. I saw the info­graphic, and I set my jaw. My Like would stand with the Iranian youth.

But now we’re real­iz­ing that slack­tivism has no real value, unless the issue actu­ally ben­e­fits in a con­crete way from atten­tion in the media space. And even then, it’s murky – I really thought the Kony cam­paign would do some­thing. But then there’s the next level. There’s the anti-Soviet Mujahadeen, and the ISIS sit­u­a­tion. Sometimes we sup­port an armed strug­gle and they go off and kill some­one they didn’t men­tion. Then what? I would­n’t pre­sume to know what it took to stand in the front-line at Tahrir Square or Tiananmen, but what about the guys at the back? What keeps them angry?

Recently I saw Soft Vengeance, a doc­u­men­tary of the early ANC. They were uni­fied by a sort of beatific naïveté. They thought very hard about the cul­ture of the move­ment – all the while they were deal­ing with beat­ings and killings. Their hand signal reminds me of the Boy Scouts – but they proudly dis­played it as they climbed into police vans. But then the new hard school came up, with the strong fist pumps and the faux leather to match. Life just hard.

That’s it, isn’t it? This world is hard to figure out​.You keep the big pic­ture in mind, you sac­ri­fice lives. You lose sight of it, people get killed. Power and respon­si­bil­ity, you know? So you really don’t need instinct in the back­seat, going “Is there blood yet?” Shut it up. Life is better with­out it.