Monday, January 4, 2010
Being Wrong Among Friends
In the mid-1990s, I participated in a panel at Colorado College about human rights and the breakup of Yugoslavia. The panel took place around the time that Serbian hardliners like Vojislav Seselj were saying that if the world did not understand Serbia's point of view, it was "us against the world." At the time, I posited a "Law of Minimal-Percentage Coalitions." It is undoubtedly true that the U.S. and major powers control both the dictionary and the rulebook of international power. If a state or people seek to put an alternative definition on the table, they must assemble a coalition of at least 10 or 12 percent of the concerned global audience, preferably closer to 20 percent, to give their argument some legitimacy. Otherwise, they fall victim to the law of sanity and large numbers. If 95 percent of the people on the planet think your cause is baseless and your position insane, you become insane by definition. And if you lash out as though you are a threatened idea or ideal being pushed to the wall, you will be destroyed, utterly and simply. Maybe not today, but the numbers work against you.
Obviously, the numbers rule does not apply to the small nonviolent group that always operates through voluntarism, without seeking to impose beliefs. Today's cults and small discussion groups provide tomorrow's political movements. But once violence or forced solidarity enter the equation, everything changes. Even the enforcement of values within one's own group can run afoul of human-rights standards, as honor killings show in gruesome fashion. The decision by many European nations to ban the Church of Scientology, for example, demonstrates that a faith group that operates through fraud and violent intimidation can no longer claim the protection of freedom of religion.
I thought about that after seeing the front-page article in the New York Times Jan 4 on Ugandans insisting on the death penalty for homosexuality. The most troubling aspect of the story was not the involvement of U.S. evangelicals, as they seemed to have no real part in suggesting a death sentence for being gay. The scary aspect was the defensive nature of Ugandans encouraging this hard line, saying they didn't care if they lost all foreign aid and the support of most people.
The attitude is similar to that of Salafists and Wahhabists demanding death to infidels who stand in the way of rebuilding a Third Caliphate. What happened to the notion of falling on your own sword if your ideas are outdated, wrong, or unacceptable to 95 percent of the people on the planet? Certainly, a minority culture should have a freedom of expression, provided other groups are not threatened, and provided that the value or concept gains some minimal acceptance in the world culture at large. But if your rulebook or dictionary -- or your holy book -- seeks a violent imposition and is deemed offensive to the vast, vast majority of human beings, and you cannot assemble that double-digit percentage, then it is time to change your most cherished value systems and become a different type of human being. The only alternative is to see your "us against the world" bravado slowly and inevitably crushed and snuffed out, as is only right and proper in a global, consensually-determined culture.