Sunday, February 28, 2016

Killing A Predator - Nonviolently

Among the animals there are natural-born predators - animals who are specifically designed to live by eating other animals.  They are incapable of relating to certain other animals as anything but a food source - a fact which, no doubt, causes a great deal of stress in the animals who are regarded as food by the predators.  After all, nobody likes being eaten, or living under the constant threat of being eaten.  What if among humans, there are people who can't look at their fellow humans in any other way than as something that would look good between two pieces of bread?  How should the rest of humanity look at such human predators?

There are a few possible responses one could choose.  The first would be to be on the lookout for those in our midst who are natural predators, and who are incapable of being reformed, and to physically attack and destroy these people before they can make a meal out of you.  The trouble with this, however, is that some predators have used this justification for accusing and attacking people who were not a threat to them, in order to prey on them.  Or, we could let the predators run society so that they could shape society into the form most advantageous to them.  (This is the model adopted by the United States from 1776 until now.)

But what if you were bound by a moral code that prohibited you from doing violence to your fellow human beings, even if some of them were predators?  Would that mean that you had to passively offer yourself up to be eaten whenever you met a predator?  Surprisingly, opinions are divided on the answer to this question.

If you asked me what I thought, I would tell you that I am a Christian; therefore, I am prohibited from physically attacking those whom I recognize as human predators.  On this point, the New Testament is quite clear, if one is willing to take what it says at face value.  But where opinions diverge is on the question of whether we are obliged to keep constant company with predators, once we see that their fangs and claws have come out.  One school of thought would quote Luke 6:27-36: “But I tell you who hear: love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, and pray for those who mistreat you...", and would say that our duty is therefore to embrace every opportunity to do good deeds to abusive people, even going so far as to choose to remain in situations where we must endure long-term abuse, in order to have the opportunity to minister to abusive people.  This is how an acquaintance of mine counseled me after I told him of my recent decision to leave the Lutheran Church, Missouri Synod, after I had heard some statements from some of their clergy who tried to justify the many police shootings of unarmed African-Americans over the last few years.  The acquaintance told me that I should stay with the Lutherans in order to "minister" to them, in the hope that "the Holy Spirit might reach them."  I didn't take his advice.  But it is the sort of advice that tickles the ears of the sort of people who want some of us to be like the central character in Uncle Tom's Cabin.

For there is another school of thought which says that placing yourself in situations of long-term abuse is sometimes a codependent behavior, and is not a sign of health on your part, but rather of pathology.  For such a response on your part enables the abuser to continue with his dysfunctional behavior.  ("Enabling" can be defined as "removing the natural consequences to the addict of his or her own behavior.")  So while I do indeed submit to Luke 6:27-36, I am also guided by Matthew 10, where the Lord sent His disciples out to do good to a nation which He knew would not receive His message.  There He says, "Behold, I send you out as sheep among wolves.  Therefore be wise (some translate this as "shrewd") as serpents, and harmless as doves.  But beware of men..."   Someone who is shrewd is smart or clever in a practical sort of way; he or she has an ability to understand things and make good judgments, and he or she possesses hard-headed acumen.  (In the original Greek, the word translated "wise" or "shrewd" is the Greek word φρόνιμος , or, "phronimos.")  In Matthew 10, the Lord also told His disciples that if their intended audience rejected the message of the good deeds done to them, the disciples were to leave them and move on to someone else.  And He said, "But when they persecute you in this city, flee into the next..."  (Emphasis added)  In other words, don't stick around.  

Things get even clearer when the abuser calls himself or herself a Christian.  For 1 Corinthians 5 says that we are not to associate with anyone who is called Christian if that person practices certain sins, among which are scheming to steal other people's stuff (which is a rough working definition of covetousness), or threatening other people in order to rob them (which is a rough working definition of extortion).  In other words, we are called to separate ourselves from those who are hell-bent on being abusive.  (That also applies on a certain level to abusive nations that call themselves "Christian".)

What if the abusers own the major institutions of society, and own the playing space in which the great game of economic advancement is played?  Then separation will not be without cost.  But those who do separate themselves will discover an amazing thing, namely, that they can indeed live outside of the system, if they are willing to stop wanting the things the system has to offer.  In other words, they discover that they don't need the things the system told them they needed.  1 Corinthians 7 commands us not to make full use of the world, since this world is passing away.  

So let's bring this to the realm of secular geopolitics.  The United States and Britain have, for the last sixty or so years, sought to refashion the world into their own personal possession, a united Anglo-American empire rising like a phoenix from the ashes of the British empire, on which "the sun never set."  They have imposed the dollar on the world as the world's reserve currency, the de facto currency of international trade.  They have enforced monetary policy via the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund, and have made the world into their oyster, an oyster which has only one choice, namely, to be eaten.  For they have made the pursuit of all other options impossibly painful for the oyster (or so they thought).  

But the oyster is now discovering that it does not have to be prey.  Syria (with a great deal of help from Russia) has just successfully resisted Anglo-American attempts to dismember it.  Iran recently announced that it will no longer conduct international trade with any other nation in dollars, but will trade in euros from now on.  China has announced that it will no longer peg its currency exclusively to the U.S. dollar, but rather to a basket of currencies.  (See this also.)  Russia and China are now trading with each other in Chinese yuan and not in U.S. dollars.  Other nations are also now ditching the dollar.  (See this also.)  And even inside the U.S. there is an increasing number of people who are unplugging from the system, financially and in other ways, by adopting simpler, more frugal lifestyles.  (One such development: note the swelling numbers of people who don't have a cable subscription, who don't even watch Netflix, and who don't have a TV.  Note also the very successful boycotts of year-end holiday shopping by African-Americans over the last two years.)  Such developments - not widely reported in Anglo-American media - must be giving a lot of hunger pangs to the predators who want to eat the oyster.

And this - the fear of starvation - is one big reason why predators start getting nervous when the prey begins to leave the pathological space created by the predators.  Just as no prey likes to be eaten, no predator wants to die of starvation.  The other reason why predators get nervous when their prey leave them has to do with the dynamic that emerges between predators once there are no longer any prey among them.  Along those lines, last week I was fascinated to hear a TED talk by Margaret Heffernan, author of Willful Blindness: Why We Ignore The Obvious At Our Peril.  In her talk, she described an experiment performed by William Muir of Purdue University, which involved two groups of chickens.  Chickens might prey on worms and bugs, but they normally don't prey on each other.  However, Muir took both groups of chickens through six generations of his experiment.  With one group (the control group), he did nothing but feed and care for them in the usual way.  However, in each generation of the second group, he separated out from them the best and most productive egg-layers (also known as the "super-chickens"), and used them as the breeding chickens for the following generation.  After six generations, the control group - the flock of mostly average chickens - was happy and thriving.  However, in the group which was subjected to selective breeding, by the sixth generation, only three of the "super-chickens" were alive.  The rest had pecked each other to death.

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