Thursday, September 07, 2006

Who is Us?

Guest post from my brother...

I have thought a lot about some of Derrick Jensen's premises in Endgame, and often arrive at the question: "What is the good?"

For Derrick, the good is assumed to be sustainability and harmony with the natural world. Inferring from their actions, I believe there are many other people who do not share these assumptions. But how can his premises pursuade people who do not share the goal of sustainability and harmony?

I have the following observation to illustrate the importance of this assumption:

I've volunteered to co-coach my son's soccer team. I know nothing about soccer, but having relied on the contributions of other parents over the years, I felt it was high time I gave some of my time and energy to supporting kids' activities.

Anyway, the first practice was on Monday and eight first-grade boys began their season. As can be expected, some of the players are much better than the others. Mike is a very talented and active player, able to run fast and stay focused on putting the ball in the net. At the other extreme, Stu needed hands-on instruction on how to kick the ball: that you need to have some momentum behind your foot to make the ball go.

At the end of the practice, we had a four-against-four scrimmage. Mike's side did very well, winning the scrimmage 4-0 with three goals by Mike and one by Tom (who was simply lurking by the goal when the ball came to him). As the scrimmage went on, the losing side became progressively more upset. Near the end of the scrimage, I witnessed Kurt (a rather aggressive player with medium skills) actually push Mike from behind during a scramble around the ball. I was prepared to check him for this behavior, but didn't have a good opportunity.

To get to the point: at the end of the scrimmage, Kurt was exceedingly upset and angry at losing. I had a quick huddle with him and another player to diffuse their anger and my principal argument was: "You are upset with losing and you are upset with Mike for being so good, but you must remember that Mike is on your team. When we have our first game on Saturday, Mike will be scoring for you, too." I don't know if it was persuasive or not because I don't know how much Kurt will identify with the team vs. how much he is driven by personal competitiveness.

Extrapolating and unfolding the argument further: the entire team (Team 14) shouldn't get too upset with the other teams because those players are their school mates and from the same town, their "homies," so to speak. When the travel team plays against other towns the area, they're still playing against kids their own age from the same culture. And when some of them make the Olympics (maybe), the smart ones will realize that they have more in common with their opponents (life dedicated to soccer) than not. In effect, when viewed at the next level, your enemy is your ally. In the science fiction world, the key to global peace is an extra-terrestrial adversary. I first encountered this in Ursula Le Guin's The Lathe of Heaven.

Essentially, it comes down to an us-vs-them issue. Who is us? Who is them? Everyone define us and them differently. For people for whom "us" includes the entire world and the miracle of a self-replicating web of life and "them" is chaos and destruction, Derrick's book makes sense. For people with narrower definitions of "us" and "them," the answer is different. Getting carried away with the idea, political control is about controlling a population's perceptions of "us" and "them" and demonstrated by how the leaders will lead "us" to dominate over "them".


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