The Forum

When Enemies Come Knocking At Our Doors: A Response to Ekal Imana and Sarah Cassel

To Sarah:

That you got abrasively agitated as your response implies after reading my response is shocking since I took unbearable pains to pick the softest and kindest words in my argument. I will imagine your reaction was the other way round though. That you got excited in a pleasant way after reading my response and exclaimed that before you is a chance to smash his “very large assumptions”, a time to triumph. And you set off like a parched desert- woman chasing after these mirages, these “very large assumptions.” The “very large assumptions” you think are in my previous arguments are nonexistent. Like an overexcited carpenter you’ve been smashing specters. But you can keep entertaining your excitement. Many have surely been happy without any solid basis for their “happiness.” You are not the first or the last.

Let me start by correcting some parts of my previous argument you misread. The intention of the blog is indeed to facilitate open and constructive dialogues. Not just the ordinary mediocre dialogues that are common in our day-to-day conversations, but one whose debaters are both passionate and unreserved about airing their sincere opinions. Your vocabulary vicious in “vicious debate” is misplaced and you could probably find it a suitable place somewhere else. Passion and viciousness do not share the same fold either in this blog or elsewhere.

This is what I have to say concerning my “departure” from ethnic violence context to U.S. relations with her neighbors. I have to use examples you are familiar with for two reasons: to make my point clear by using references you are accustomed to  (bear in mind the response was particularly addressed to you) and hopefully make you realize that there is a problem with your system (western influence and demagoging). It is like communicating with a child, you have to use what they know. And you are a child, and so my language and concepts have to be softer (hopefully not weaker) and my references have to be what you are familiar with. Besides, if I just talk in the context of ethnic violence you might think that the issues of violence is “their” problems since you can easily abstract yourselves by claiming that you are not one of these nomadic tribes.

In real sense, ethnic violence, particularly the Turkana and Pokots and Karamojong, is not an isolated Kenyan or African problem. In some ways, ethnic violence among nomadic communities of Kenya has been enhanced by your system (remember what I mean by your system). This ethnic violence has its roots in the western hemisphere; think for instance the issue of proliferation of arms in these ethnically torn regions. How could attainment of these weapons be possible without the indirect interaction with and trade with the your system? Most of these arms are manufacture by foreign industries.

Anyways, violence is violence; be it on a communal, national or global level. Though I do not claim that U.S. relationship with her neighbors is completely identical to the inter-ethnical relations among these warring pastoralist communities (the former is actually worse), but I do think they share a few commonalities. If the consequences of ethnic violence among these communities are replicated on a very humongous-large scale, it equals the extent of U.S. violations of humanity globally. In short my “digression” was not a distractor from the subject matter of the argument but really a clarifier of the commonalities of ethnically torn systems. And I hope to drive my message home. So be grateful lady.

Okay, I will halt knocking down your accusations for now, less you be discouraged and quit. Instead, I will focus on the veggie, or meaty for non-vegetarians, part of the argument.

Now Ekal is Welcome:

Ekal asks, “But in the case of the Pokot, do we really have a hidden agenda? I think the Pokots are the ones with a hidden agenda. They are the ones who want part of Turkana, and they are the ones killing us for that. They are crazy people. Where are Pokot Christians, pastors, priests etc.?”

Sarah asks, “Staying in the tribal context, do you think that it is more moral and noble for a leader to disregard the perceived threat of an encroaching tribe and to “perish” instead of fighting back to protect the lives of his people? If a leader does in fact take this perspective and allows his tribe to be killed in order to maintain the “moral high road”, then is he not betraying his own tribe?”

From the above two questions, we can see a narrower understanding of the notion of morality and moral responsibility, and adherence to the belief that enemies’ fires should at least be countered with our own “self-defense” fire. The narrower understanding of what morality means makes one understand situation like the perceived threat from the enemies as either a kind of moral conundrum and/or it makes one think of morality a subjective enterprise that serve the good of “my people.”

With this narrower understanding of morality one might understand immorality as anything that causes harm or pain. With this understanding, one might judge that the first responsibility one has is to guide oneself against harm/pain. The second responsibility might be not to be the agent of harm/pain (but often people fail to recognize this second responsibility since they ascribe moral rules to others and not to themselves.) One may judge that since one’s means of self-defense cause harm to our enemies and since we cannot contradict our first responsibility (self-preservation), then the situation (the perceived threat from the enemies) is ambiguous and beyond our moral judgment; a kind of moral dilemma.

Regardless of whether one views a situation as a moral conundrum or not, one is still expected to respond to it. The need to respond (in our case either to surrender to our enemies and be annihilated by them or fight them and perhaps survive by killing the most fierce of them) forces one to rationalize moral principles as subjective in order that one may make allegiance to ones group (“my people”) and therefore find a way to respond without experiencing moral compunctions when killing ones enemies. So it seems the way out of moral dilemmas and guilty is by rationalizing the subjectivity of morality. But this is the narrow understanding of the notion of morality that I would like to argue against.

Fighting advancing enemies and preserving ones life is a result of a mediocre way of thinking about morality. A “moral high road” is neither letting our enemies triumph nor is it triumphing over them. This mediocre way of thinking about morality makes one think that there are only two options of responding to situations like the perceived threat from the enemies; the two options being either to fight the belligerent enemies or have oneself subordinated and at worst annihilated by the enemies.

This is a flawed way of thinking about morality and the nature of our moral response. A situation like this (the perceived threat from the enemies) does not compel only two options of moral response. Every situation is encoded with multiple moral demands and moral values. The flaw in the mediocre way of thinking about morality results from thinking that situations have less than a couple moral demands and moral values and hence making moral judgments along this linear and narrower scopes.

Taking the example of Senator George Mitchell of Maine that Sarah provided, I will argue that regardless of whether he voted for or against the bill (given that these were the only options available), he would not have acted morally. Sarah’s exclamation “Perhaps Senator Mitchell made the wrong decision, but regardless it’s definitely not clear-cut (for me anyway)” is a failure to see that moral uprightness is about embracing all the moral demands in our responses and hence not neglecting any value or biasedly responding to one value at the expense of the other one. In the case of perceived threat from our enemies, moral uprightness means incorporating our enemies’ concern in our response.

We have to see that the situation of perceived threat from our enemies is infused with multiple moral demands, not just two (that is either to defend or tremble in front of our enemies). The narrower way of understanding situations as only embedded with less than a couple moral demands and hence reacting in a one-dimensional way creates confusion (and many times apathy to understanding the concept of morality) when the consequences of our reactions are clearly not moral. The narrower way of responding to situations is similar to what Mengzi’s (Ancient Eastern Philosopher) idea of a single glass of water. Mengzi said, “Benevolence will overcome what is not benevolent just as water overcomes fire. Nowadays, those who practice benevolence are like someone who tries to save a wagonload of burning firewood with a single glass of water. When the fire is not extinguished, they claim that water cannot overcome fire. This aids what is not benevolent more than anything else does. In the end, all will be lost” [Mengzi, 6A18.1].

Our intuitive response frequently mimics our enemies’. People (in a general sense) make half-decisions as we already said since they do fail to see the multiple moral demands and values embedded in situations. Furthermore, people tend to deal with situations as if they are isolated, for example passing the bill without regard to the downtrodden or caring about the downtrodden without regard to environmental issues, or letting oneself massacred without regard to the equal right to life that every being has, (etc.)

Building self-defenses is like putting bricks on the path of running water. How many and long will one keep adding bricks to counter the force of accumulating water behind the brick wall? Brick walls do not stop the flowing of water but just concentrates them on a particular point, which demands more control and surveillance. Similarly, building self-defense does not stop the cycle of violence. They might temporarily suppress violence but as with any turbulent but close systems, the pressure trapped within the walls of the system will eventually bust open; eruption of violence.

We display weapons and shields, for what purposes? We might claim to protect ourselves but from our enemies’ perspective the purpose is to instill fear in them and make them recoil their tails behind their legs. A more cowardly person carries the largest and threatening weapons so as to scare others. (Qualified statement: U.S and China and the rest that own nuclear weapons are the cowardest of cowards.) The coward might argue that his respect must be earned by all means. But his efforts to gain this respect are counterproductive since commanding fear in others never returns respect. These cowardly ways only promote cowardly thinking. Do we want our enemies to fear us or treat us like brothers and sisters? Obviously the latter. True respect comes from love and love from understanding, nothing more. Are our enemies capable of treating us like brothers and sisters? If our enemies show affection to one of their kind, why can’t they be capable? They surely do have these amorous sensitivities and capabilities.

So what then should we do in the face of this perceived threat from our enemies? One thing I would like to mention before trying to give an answer to this question is that to be a keen/smart person is hard, more so to be a smart and a moral person. To be a moral person one cannot help but be intelligent also. The world we live in is ruthlessly unsympathetic to the morally right. If we are moral, we have to have sufficient practical knowledge to help us not only to meander around world challenges but also actually address them accordingly.

We need to be moral foxes, not the cunning foxes (we have to ignore the negative connotation assumed about foxes). We have to achieve this morality and this smartness to outwit our enemies. The point is not beat our enemies; if we do this we are no better than our enemies, we are as immoral as our enemies are. We want to love them. We want them to love us. We want to be done with anxieties of imminent danger and war once and for all.

So what then should we do in the face of this perceived threat from our enemies? Okay, let me say one more thing first (evidently this question is no baby-task.) It is a moral failing if we are not attuned to the dynamics of our social environment. Once we realize that things have gone wrong, that we have failed to see or predict the underlying factors behind the situations like perceived threat from our enemies, we do not lose hope and commit even more moral faults. If the enemies are approaching, we definitely have to brace for the impact. Bracing for the impact means putting ourselves in a position either to detour the imminent harm or have the mechanism to absorb this harm and turn it into a good charm. We have to develop a mechanism that will make the following statement possible. If enemies throw stones at you, use them to build houses not fences.

Self-defense does not mean going out of our homes in search of enemies in the bushes. Sometimes our perceptions of the threat from our enemies might be exaggerated. It is wiser to stay calm and study our enemies from a distance. Our movements in territories that we are not welcome do nothing but provoke and give our enemies justifiable claims about our intrusion.

But the idea of protecting our lives from within our homes should not be our only response to situations like perceived threat from our enemies. We argued earlier that situations have more than a couple moral demands and therefore should elicit enriched responses from us (if at all we want to be moral). There must be something else we have to do besides protecting our lives from our homes. We have to learn more about our situation through studying the causes of this strife and fight and the nature of our enemies. Nietzsche argues “Learning from one’s enemies is the best way toward loving them; for it makes us grateful to them.” Not only will learning from our enemies help us appreciate our enemies but it also help us fulfill our moral responsibility to humanity. We have a moral responsibility not only to our mothers, brothers, sisters or fathers but to every living and non-living thing; a cosmic moral responsibility.

With this being said, the notion of “my people” should be discredited. The essence of man, though I cannot fully articulate it, is definitely not the genetic composition or cultural eccentricities of a group. But these genetic composition arguments (especially in the past) and cultural peculiarities have been used to create baseless ethnic and national dichotomies. The notion of “my people” is an illusion especially when you think of the arbitrariness of life itself, of one’s unique location on the globe and of other aspects of life (e.g. cultural and individual tastes). The idea of my people is destroying life.

So “Do leaders not have a responsibility to protect the lives of the people who live within their borders and who trust them with their bodily security?” You can infer my answer.

Back to Sarah:

You claimed that Turkana and Pokots have been oppressors and oppressed at different times. I differ. I will rather argue that both of them have been the oppressed all the time and none has been oppressor over the other. The notion of oppressor is not only about one who physically dominate another but one who also violates the dominated mentally. Despite a long history of recurrent cattle raiding episodes among these nomadic communities, none of them has ever wished to impose their own cultural views and lifestyles on the other. Their struggle has main been material. Unlike these pastoralist communities, the U.S. struggle with her neighbors has been both severely material and unsparingly ideological. The U.S. (just giving an example of one of the many western powers) has realized that the effective steps to establishing an economic empire is by first triumphing with an ideological conquer. And so America idols have been planted everywhere. Thank God these pastoralist tribes lack this insight. Otherwise, things would have been shitier.

I won’t go much into correcting your misreading of what I had said in the previous argument since the views that I haven’t focused on are not relevant to the veggie or meaty part of this argument and I have already said much. I will just mention your misreading in passing.

Read my previous response again; as per my definition emotions are quantifiable. Your doubt that means of survival are always challenged is misguided. Think of the isolated groups such as those in amazon jungle or of some pre-colonial African tribes that lived in commendable harmony. You argue that “hate and fear are anything but “unnatural”—they are unfortunately the most intrinsic human emotions associated with survival.” Briefly, I will say that you should separate the concept of anger from that of hate and it will do you no harm to conduct a study to find out when do young babies learn to fear. I just came from a walk and was amazed to see the supposedly wild hare unafraid while I walked a few inches from it. This is completely incomparable to its ancestors’ or African wild hares’ instinctive reaction to potential predators. Finally, hate and fear are unnatural. And remember Nietzsche’s quote, “One often contradicts an opinion when it is really only the tone in which it has been presented that is unsympathetic.”

It is interesting that you attacked your their favorite parts of my previous argument and not the every part or the argument as a whole. Here are some questions you left answered:

What kind of education are you talking about? What kind of education is the tolerance education? You might be tempted to say the education that will make us tolerate each other. But what kind of education is this? Or are we just talking for the fun of it? Concerning your desire to learn an African Education, are you will to unlearn some elements of your system’s education since this is what it entails?

To All:

Finally, the Turkana should be told that he’s an African, and the African a human being and the human being as one. Likewise, the Pokots and the Americans should learn same lessons. As Burning spear agues, humanity should move as one, like the elephants.

2 thoughts on “When Enemies Come Knocking At Our Doors: A Response to Ekal Imana and Sarah Cassel

  1. Thank you for your insightful response. There are unfortunately too many issues raised in this post for me to address them all effectively without going on many tangents, so I hope you will entertain my focus on solely the issue of perceived threat, since as you know it is a question I have been thinking about extensively lately.

    I’m glad you bring up the idea of a “narrower understanding of morality” as being either “for my people” or “betraying my people.” It makes sense that morality would not come in such a black and white duality, but rather with many more options of creative conflict resolution strategies. I like the way you articulate our (or some of our) intuition that “morality” means protecting from harm, which automatically makes “immorality” mean that which allows us to be harmed. I have for some time been trying to construct an intellectual “middle ground” for moral dilemmas. I like the idea of listening to our “enemies” to understand the numerous moral demands at play in a given situation.

    However, I am still unclear as to what would constitute an ideal response when one is faced with voting either for or against a bill or, in a more extreme case, when one is faced with killing or being killed. These kinds of cases, as you mentioned, require usually quick responses, so how can we consider all the moral demands together while still responding in a timely and effective manner? And even if we did have all the time in the world, what ideal response should we be aiming for?

    Your argument about self-defense is a good one: that is really just put a band-aid on a gaping wound so that eventually you will just need a stronger band-aid or the blood will come through. What I still question, though, is what we should do in the meantime while we try to learn about our enemies’ concerns. And furthermore, what should we do if we discover that our enemies wish to fight us due to characteristics we have that we cannot change (for instance race, gender, religion, sexual persuasion, ect.)? Should we resist the instinct to defend ourselves against that violence? Obviously dialogue is the preferred medium of meeting the “other side,” but in cases of real violent conflict, is the ideal really to remain passive and allow one’s enemies to do as they will so as not to be seen as the aggressor? I recognize that I am falling into the “narrower understanding of morality” again, but I am having a hard time grasping what can be done in the face of hatred aside from self-defense. Meeting the “enemy” is a long process that requires patience and dialogue in a safe space, as well as recognizing that people’s most internal, core differences will never be changed or reconciled, but rather must be respected and honored.

    Perhaps the “essence of man (or woman)” that you are attempting to articulate is really the recognition of an entity that shares potential commonalities with all other “essences of man” that can be conditioned or influenced to belong to one affinity group or another, when in reality self-identifying differences may be used to strengthen bonds between men in a spirit of greater learning.

    I think I’ll save the education and emotions questions for another time so that we can focus on the threat and moral responsibility question here more extensively.
    That being said, I think you might like this article:
    http://opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/06/03/philosophys-western-bias/?hp

  2. By Ekal Imana via Facebook:
    You did not answer my question. you go round and round. My question is simple, while the pokots are killing innocent Turkanas, where are their peace lovers? Priests, pastors, whatever, that want peace? Are they in agreement with the killings? When are they going to step in and tell their people to stop killing innocent people?
    I am frustrated by the lack of progress in the direction of peace. Many People talk about peace but I do not see any, the killings are still going on. I told you the pokots are wrong and are purposely being violent. They cannot be stupid enough not to know where the border between the two districts are. The courts have now told them they have no case, except they are crazy. The pokots, from what I know and have known for years, do not understand peace. The only thing they understand is violence. I hoped that there would be some intelligent ones, who would like to give peace a chance instead of violence. That is why I was asking about the peace lovers of pokot. Do they exist? Why are they not making the effort to stop pokot aggression? The fact that there is silence in pokot means there are no peace lovers over there. They are all in agreement with the hostilities they purposely created by purposely claiming sections of Turkanaland. In responce to the continuous attacks, the brave and peace loving Turkana people are now mad, and will be mad for along time. They have vowed to face the pokots headon. Tthey say this is the only way to create peace with the pokot. The know pokots do not understand reason, but violence. If you think otherwise, try reason with them, they will not listen or care.

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