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N.B. This blog is not about politics, so please understand that I'm not opening up political debate. I'm telling a story.

listening today to NPR online this morning, I remember a day when my outlook on politics changed, just slightly, but very significantly: I am at a convention in Toronto about communications during humanitarian crises. The subject of the panel is secure communications and protection issues. Example: Sudanese intelligence tapping WFP distribution data to know where to send their bombers. Somehow the discussion gets derailed, and the subject of negotiations with extremists comes up.

An Israeli colleague gets up, and with his fingers landing on an imaginary line in the air says, "The problem of negotiating with extremists is that you start far apart." Fingers wide. "Then negotiations begin, and you move closer to the middle ground," right finger moves inward, "but they don't move." "So you move closer," right finger inward again. "Still they don't move. Eventually," right finger now next to the left, "you end up defending a position you would never accept."

Today I'm looking south through maple-leaf tinted glasses, where for the past year, a young conservative president has been courting the radical right. The machinery of government is cumbersome, and unweildy, and the leader of the legislative branch has expertly pulled every lever and stop to get it to move closer to the radicals in order to pass a law ensuring what every other industrial nation considers a human right.

As a kid, I remember the last time Americans fought for a human right on this scale. I remember blue signs, round, the top read ERA, the bottom read NOW. The same group of money-over-people types shot it down, saying it was bad for business, that it struck at the core of American values, that the people didn't want it. The same lies. Then came Reagan, and the bubble-reality of America sailed off into a pink sunrise, a capital-drinking binge during which it was mugged and rogered and never complained because the booze kept flowing, and the blackouts came just so quickly, and there was always something to distract...

Up north, an alternate path was taken. Gays, women, people of all races had an omnibus version of the ERA written into the constitution in 1982. But it took twenty years for marriage between same-gender couples to become law. It takes a long time for change to come. A very long time, because those stick-in-the-muds who will not budge from their positions have to die off, retire. And this was after a radical rewrite of the constitution.

The U.S. constitution was written by wealthy men who got involved in government in order to avoid being taxed. The actual work of building the nation was accomplished by the have-nots, whether slaves or wage-workers, it's all the same. The tea party started it off, and the tea party still remains. If you want the tea party to go away, I think it's the constitution you need to be looking at.

Pig herders will tell you that when you try to move or handle a pig that doesn't want to move, it will raise an unholy ruckus. It will scream and wail even when it's not in pain. Even when it isn't really disturbed, but just wants to be left alone to do its thing. The unholy squeal is a pig's way of warning you to stay away. The trick is to ignore the squeal and keep prodding the pig until it goes where you want it to go. It will do so, with some docility, in the end. If you're patient and firm and speak gently to it.

But if you listen to the squeal, you'll find you've negotiated yourself into a knee-deep pile of shit.

Good luck with that.

Comments

( 6 comments — Leave a comment )
cerealboxreader
Mar. 24th, 2010 09:55 pm (UTC)
Interesting points. I guess us North Americans should take credit for progress made, since reform of any kind is so difficult. What I'd like to see are the rights of the planet written into a world-wide contstitution....

Maaja
barry_king
Mar. 25th, 2010 10:43 am (UTC)
Oh, my. I'm not quite sure just WHAT to say to that ;)

I don't know if you know this, but I come from an old Southern U.S. family. Looking through THOSE glasses, I can just see how many fundamentalists have been sitting around waiting for worldwide constitutions of that sort to herald the coming of THE BEAST (yes, 666 and all that). Now that the EU has more than 10 countries, they've had to look further afield, but it's my experience that the general cultural antipathy in the U.S. to any sort of multilateralism or world-body constitution lies in Millenarian Christianity.

Which is a real shame, because Christianity has so much potential for good when it isn't being used as a lubricant for cranio-rectal insertion.
cerealboxreader
Mar. 28th, 2010 02:10 pm (UTC)
No way? Way?
?

Unbelievable.

barry_king
Mar. 29th, 2010 08:12 pm (UTC)
Re: No way? Way?
Well, it was certainly true in my parents' time. I think it's a fading thing, especially this far into the next Millennium. But there are some holdouts in that strange place where the 700 club and their ilk are taken seriously.

I've also heard an interesting argument that the only reason the U.S. never converted to metric was because of football. That, I find believable. It's strange to now live in a country where you need two sets of tools for any kind of mechanical work, but since everything is in two languages, it sort of balances out.
orts
Mar. 25th, 2010 01:41 pm (UTC)
"This blog is not about politics..."

Ah, fond as I am of Barry King, I miss sizztheseed's little Kropotkin avatar :)
barry_king
Mar. 25th, 2010 01:42 pm (UTC)
Too much "feeding meringues into a black hole," my friend. Let sizz lie. He deserves some rest, after all.
( 6 comments — Leave a comment )