Culture vulture

My country, right and wrong
“You’re either with us or against us.” Thus spake the great unifier in November 2001, speaking about the nascent “War on Terror” that would eventually destroy the civic infrastructures of Afghanistan and Iraq, kill and maim untold tens or hundreds of thousands of noncombatant citizens of those two countries, directly cause the deaths of, to date, more than 2,000 honorable American soldiers and begin a drain on this country’s economic resources that we will probably not recover from within the lifetime of anyone reading this paper.

“You’re either with us or against us.” It’s one of those statements that sounds sensible in the heat of emotional turmoil, because when besieged by dreadful possibilities the mind does its best to reduce the number of possible choices to easily manageable statistics. And nothing is statistically less complicated than a simple binary choice. Either/or. Good/bad. Right/wrong. If only all of our choices in life could be thus simply predicated, many of life’s complications would seemingly just disappear. Unfortunately, as that wily old Chinaman Lao Tzu pointed out some time ago: “The one implies the two. The two imply the three, and the three imply the ten thousand things under heaven.” Which, for the non-mathematically inclined, implies that in this infinitely complicated world, every choice has infinite implications. Not a particularly comforting thought for those who would prefer simple, dualistic answers of either right or wrong to the world’s problems. But infinitely reassuring to those of us who believe that there are as many paths to peace as there are seekers of said path.

“You’re either with us or against us.” Culture Vulture, while acknowledging the intrinsic attractiveness of the sentiment involved, would like to offer a slightly more inclusive, though initially less attractive-sounding, variation: “You’re either with us, or you’re with us against your will.”

Naturally those who object to being affiliated with anything they find abhorrent will immediately respond, “No. I am not with whoever just uttered the statement or took that action that I disagree with.” But the simple fact of the matter is that by acknowledging disagreement we explicitly accept the fact that we exist in the world with the source of our disagreement. It may not be to our liking but it is the undeniable truth that we are in the world with those with whom we disagree. But it would serve us well to remember that the fulcrum of this discussion is the word “with.” And the rhetorical lever being applied to that fulcrum is the word “will.”

What if we, all of those who are with each other on the face of the Earth, decided—made it our will—to figure out ways that we can coexist without feeling the need to kill or subjugate those with whom we disagree. To change the previous formulation, “You’re either with us, or you’re with us against your will,” to “We’re with you, you’re with us, let’s try to get through the day without killing or enslaving each other.”

It could catch on, right? Or wrong?