Saturday, September 27, 2008

Palin, Iran, and good/evil

Plenty of things have already been said about Gov. Palin's most recent embarrassment, a.k.a. the Couric interview. I won't repeat all the critiques of her lack of knowledge and dangerously extreme policy positions. But I want to focus briefly on her comments about negotiating with Iran:
"I think, with Ahmadinejad, personally, he is not one to negotiate with. You can't just sit down with him with no preconditions being met. Barack Obama is so off-base in his proclamation that he would meet with some of these leaders around our world who would seek to destroy America and that, and without preconditions being met."

Did I miss something, or does Iran really seek to destroy America? Did someone in Iran say that? Did some U.S. intelligence agency infer that? Now Ahmadenijad is no saint, but even under the worst possible interpretation of his various remarks, the worst you could argue (and even here it's highly disputable) is that he wants to destroy Israel.

But this isn't just Palin's own mistake; I think it fits into a long tradition of enemy-making. In Palin's worldview, there are Good Guys and Bad Guys in the world. By definition, we are the good guys, and the bad guys want to destroy us. Since Israel is one of "us," by definition anything Israel does against bad guys is good and shouldn't be second-guessed. Ahmadenijad is not a cynically rational, self-interested authoritarian concerned about his own domestic politics (which a fair reader of this interview would surmise), but another Hitler who must be confronted.

Now there is a tiny, tiny nugget of truth in this thinking. There are people who don't like America and its policies, and sometimes they do things that are evil. But I can't overstate how dangerous this kind of good/evil thinking is, for our own security and others' as well. We are literally (literally, with words) creating enemies out of our opponents and even some former friends. We define these enemies as inherently unreceptive to rational incentives or dialogue, which leaves threats and violence as the only policy alternatives. Do we really need more enemies? Do we never do anything evil ourselves?

Two last comments: First, it seems that this kind of binary good/evil thinking is heavily related to exclusivist religious belief. Second, it only buttresses the position of leaders like Ahmadenijad in his own society, since he can use the same good/evil language to demonize us.

1 comment:

Acrobat said...

Agreed, heavily related. More like: primarily caused by. And one can't underestimate the ingroup/outgroup orientation produced by nearly all religion, including moderates & liberals.

Oct. Esquire has article on Harvard professors Cass Sunstein & Samantha Power, Obama advisors & together teaching a class on extremism. As described in the article, Sunstein's research from Colorado demonstrating that socializing with like-minded people produces extremism.

Tina Fey opened SNL again last night w/ her Palin. Most amusing is that real world farce of Palin needs little addition of comedic creativity. Writers basically had Fey repeat Palin's style & substance, with (I thought) minimal exaggeration. Loved Fey.