Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Extremism worldwide

The world is a scary place right now, is it not? Terrorists, extremists, polarized politics, and violence plague us. People are blaming one another for problems and not working together for the benefit of all.  People are rioting and looting because they feel like they have no options in life. And in many ways in the culture that we have developed in "western, industrialized" countries, this is true. The gap between wealthy and poor has been widening for decades. More and more people are hungry and uncared for.

This inequality has lead to revolutions and protests in Syria, Egypt, Wisconsin, Michigan, Spain, Greece, London, and Manchester. (I am sure that there are more than this short list.) I believe that this economic situation has created terrorism and extremism. Here in the US, the threat for homegrown terrorism is higher than it has ever been, due to gaps in equality, extremists taking advantage, and the rest of the population living in a state where they value competition over cooperation.

I know that many blame religion, but extremism of any stripe can step in when people feel powerless. The attack on Norway was done by a Christian extremist- yes, but more than that, he was afraid of what a pluralistic socity would mean for him- he thought it meant losing what little power he did have. The attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon were done by Muslim extremists, yes. But in reality, religion has little to do with these attacks. The attacks on US soil targeted centers of global oppression- big finance and US colonial military power.

Further, these kind of attacks stem from a place where people feel that their way of doing things trumps everyone else's. The Oslo Bomber feared Muslims and their culture and wanted them exterminated, deported, or violently assimilated. The mere existence of "others" (simply being) is a threat to him. He hated the "cultural marxists and multiculturalists" who are "aiding and abetting" cultural genocide (most significantly in efforts to accommodate Islam within Europe). The challenge, as [Anders Behring Breivik] sees it, seems to be to eliminate Islamic migration to Europe, assimilate or force emigration of Muslims, and to excise all Islamist or Arab influenced culture, art, and architecture from European countries.

So what can we do? We can say no and we can say yes.

Say No to a Culture That Embraces Violence and Hates Difference
Did you know that in our (broken) popular culture video games ) the ones that we often let our kids play) helped the Oslo bomber prepare his horrible plot? We are desensitizing ourselves to violence and death and helping others learn how to kill effectively when we allow such "games" in our homes.Violent video games in my home? Hell no.

I have a friend whose sons (all under the age of 6) play these with their father (as well as watch violent TV and cartoons) and all they want to do is play fight. They always polarize their toys (This is the bad guy- I am going to kill him!") and it makes me sad and frightened all at the same time. These kids also have nightmares inspired by what they see. I want something different for Rowan- and that is going to be hard, because I am swimming upstream, against the tide of a culture that sees violence as mainstream and OK.

I also choose not to have a TV in my home, because I feel most of the programming is designed for brainwashing us to believe competition is better than cooperation, capitalism is freedom, violence is normal, and difference is something to be despised. I do not want my son exposed to those dynamics at a young age. When he is older, we will watch together, so that I can help decode the messages that he is seeing. I want to raise a critical thinker.

I am also saying no to a segregated society- I want to have friends of all ages, races, religions and other cultural markers of difference. I want my son to grow up in that world, so I need to actively cultivate it. which brings me to saying yes:

Saying Yes to Diversity, Cooperation, and a Culture That Sustains Life
After the Oslo bombing, Al Jezeera ran an op-ed called, Faced with Inhumanity, We Must Be More Human. I concur. While we are afraid, we must continue to reach out to one another and build a new society in the decaying shell of the old. We must learn how to care for ourselves and others we include in our tribe (and we must build those tribes!) Hard work is ahead for all of us that value life and love.

We must go out of our way sometimes to meet people who think or live differently than ourselves. Making friendships that span that divide is even harder. But if we want a society that embraces diversity, then we must do it on a micro level first.

I am teaching my son about the myriad seemingly invisible (only because we take it for granted) ways the world cooperates for his benefit. I am teaching him cooperation and working and playing with others. I am modeling non-violent communication, non-capitalist ways of being, and how to create.

What are you doing to say no and yes to a better world?


  1. I don't think the rioting was because they felt they didn't have any options. There were kids as young as eleven doing it who couldn't have understood the politics. In my town they torched the Jobcentre, which is what would have gotten them into work if they wanted to be. They raped and killed people in the street and destroyed buildings that withstood bombings in the war. Their final aims were to lift flatscreen televisions out of shops, I don't think those were the actions of people who felt helpless, just malicious.
    And as a videogame developer, I disagree. Modern Warfare is about being in the military and World of Warcraft is fantasy. Whatever violence there is, is within a context that does not occur in players' real lives, e.g. they are not in the military and therefore have no reason to be running around with a gun.

  2. What you are describing is almost an Amish type structure and even they have their rules about outsiders and they have a mode of allowing their children to choose how they will live. They also have a built in set of unspoken rules of work ethics. It is a difficult thing to be all inclusive of diversity with out the type of structure as set up by the Amish. You may find yourself in a position where you will have to establish boundaries and learn how to discriminate. Not all types of discrimination is bad. It is the difference between cream and sugar in your coffee and a harsh cup o black joe. But then again some like a cup of coffee with out the frills.

    I know the ideals you are trying to establish and live by look great on paper and sound great when spoken, but at some point you will have to prepare your children for the fact that not everyone is going to play nice, much less by the rules. He must be ready to handle them properly and sweet talk about let's all be friends will not cut it.

  3. @Mrs. Oddly: That is not really the kind of culture (Amish) that I am talking about, sorry for not making myself clear. We will be urban homesteading- not going rural and sheltered. You can be mostly self-sustaining on less than an acre. My son has been exposed to lots of diversity and will continue to be, thanks to an urban setting.

    As for the vid games, We will have to agree to disagree. Children especially have no clear distinction between fantasy and reality. Advertisers know this very well and exploit it. There is plenty of research that talks about children growing up surrounded by a culture of violence and becoming desensitized to it. Heck, adults are becoming desensitized too- how else could they watch some of the brutal things that I have seen on movies and some of those games. It turns my stomach the cruelty that is depicted.

    @Arlecchino: Poor people often torch their own neighborhoods when they feel powerless. It is sad, but the pattern happens over and over. The jobcentre has done precious little to lift most of those kids out of poverty, so I can see how they might see it as worthless.

  4. I know what you mean. Here in The Netherlands it is getting more and more violent too. Even in rural areas. It frightens me. We also have someone who works together with the government, who keeps on giving hate messages against the moslim people here. It is just awful. The Dutch used to be such a tolerant people.

  5. My two step kids have long been raised without violent toys. And I can tell the difference when they play with other kids. Their choice of games is completely different. The other kids want to have sword fights, nerf gun wars, etc and our kids want to build lego cities or experiement with baking soda and vinegar. Since I came into their life 5+ years ago, the violent toy policy became more clear cut (because it was important to me and my husband). It's simple. No toys that represent violence (ie: guns, knives, etc) The only exception being water guns that do not look like real guns. For many years, we also had a rule about no violent video games. Their mom doesn't completely agree with us on this policy and so the kids have sort of balked at this rule saying "We can play this and that at mom's" So now that they are both quite a bit older, we've modifed the video game rule to no M rated games. And encourage them to think and analysis any T rated games that are still somewhat violent.

    What we've learned is you can't simply just have these rules, you also have to follow it up with lots of discussion. They live in a culture that promotes violence, they wanna do what their friends do. And so of course, they don't think our rules are fair all the time. So we've had lots of talks about why we as a family don't allow such games/toys. We've talked about how to analyze the impact of such games/toys and how they affect the rest of society/culture. And we tell them straight up, we can't stop you from playing games or playing with violent toys at your friends house. But we hope you value our beliefs enough to find other things to do when possible or to be aware of the impact playing such things can have.

    We also live by example as best we can and will not buy violent toys for kids of friends and family (even if it is on the kid's wish list).

    The hardest part is getting family and friends to NOT buy violent stuff for our kids. We've had to repeat our stance quite a few times and we've had to exchange some gifts for more appropriate toys/games. But eventually people start to remember.

    So anyway, this very long comment is just to say... don't give up. It can totally be done. You can't negate everything the child sees in the media and with friends. But you can build the framework needed for them to analyze it and have the values in your own house reflect your non-violent stance. And it does make a difference. :)

  6. I couldn't agree more on this blog. The neighbour being trashed in Salford, Manchester, UK is my neighbourhood and it was frightening and heartbreaking to see it being torn down by looters and opportunists. Some of the rioting was about organised gangs, some where opportunists, some where raised in a culture that always has one hand out saying 'I have a right to this without having any responsibilities'. But the wider picture is that of powerlessness in the face of a global society where multinational capitalist organisations wield more power and money than governments and where the wealth created by this corrupt system is not trickling down and so a few get richer and the rest get by. There is also a desensitisation and selfishness in society that says me,me,me all the time. Thatcher has a lot to answer for in her 1980's speech about there being no such thing as society. Flagrant rule breaking is endemic and it feeds down to a society where we tell our kids its OK to take what they want with what ever force they feel necessary.

    There is indeed a need for us all to pause for a breath and look again at how we raise our kids, what is it that we are teaching them?

    There is plenty in the wonderful planet of ours for every last one of its 6 + billion citizens but for it to work we need to have a non violent peaceful co-operative society. I think it highly commendable to raise your child that way, this new ideology will touch everyone he meets. The message here is pass the love forward. BB )O(


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