In the original Star Trek series there was an episode “Let That Be Your Last Battlefield.” In this episode the Enterprise was transporting two warring alien humanoids who are black on half their body and white on the other half of their body. One of the aliens is Bele, a police commissioner from the planet Cheron, who is chasing the political refuge, Lokai, from the same planet. Bele considers himself superior to Lokai because Bele is white on the left side of his body while Lokai is white on the right side. Their mutual hatred over superficial differences had been going on for 50,000 years and continues throughout the episode. In the final scene, Captain Kirk leaves them to return to their now destroyed home planet presumably to continue to go at it.
The episode was originally broadcast in 1969 and, of course, was a not too subtle, but effective, allegory about race relations in the United States.
Last week we considered Georgia’s invasion of South Ossetia and our imprudent involvement in the area. Georgia is a country smaller than South Carolina, and South Ossetia is a region smaller than Rhode Island. Despite the relatively small area that they share on this earth, Georgians and Ossetians have different languages and they view each other through the eyes of simmering ancient hatreds. To a foreigner they are more similar than not; but to the Georgians and Ossetians their “differences”, like those of Bele and Lokai, are very real. The harsh reality is that they would rather suffer than give up their hatreds.
Why, in such a geographically small area, can human beings not live in harmony? There is a simple answer—not united by common principles that make peace and harmony possible, Georgians and Ossetians see each other as different, as less than fully human. Collectively they hate each other, and they have reaped what they have sown.
A few years ago a Kurdish graduate student shared this story with me after he had just received a phone call from his family. In his home village a neighbor had called the police on another family because that family had a chicken running loose in the street. When the patriarch of that family came home that day, he was incensed that his family’s honor had been insulted by the police visiting his home. He got his gun and shot to death the members of the family that had called the police. The student explained to me that a blood feud had now begun that would continue for many generations.
Without common principles, the hatred and superstition that lurks in every ego rises to the top. And those who rise to the top of almost every tribal society maintain their power by feeding and exploiting that hatred.
Their choice to hate can be undone at anytime, says A Course in Miracles:
What would you see? The choice is given you. But learn and do not let your mind forget this law of seeing: You will look upon that which you feel within. If hatred finds a place within your heart, you will perceive a fearful world, held cruelly in death’s sharp-pointed, bony fingers. If you feel the Love of God within you, you will look out on a world of mercy and of love.
But the choice to see love instead of hate must be supported by the institutions of the society we live in. Those institutions begin with respect and support for property rights. And those institutions only thrive if we want others to enjoy the same rights—to not be encroached against—as we would wish for ourselves. In countries that are organized around allegiance to a tribe rather than around abstract principles, the idea that another tribe should enjoy equal rights is a laughable proposition.
With most of the mainstream media continuing to press the point that a resurgent Russia is threatening world peace, the opportunity is passing us by to learn important lessons. There are those Americans who would bring to the United States mindless, cruel, and needless suffering like we see in the Caucasus.
Who are those Americans? They include the bulk of politicians who owe allegiance to no principles other than increasing their own power and the power of the government. They include those educators who fail to understand and teach the principles that promote peace and prosperity. And it includes those Americans who prefer to watch mindless television each evening rather than to seek to understand the principles that protect their liberty.
We are told by politicians, pundits, and educators that our founding principles, which begin with our rights, are out-of-date. What an absurd notion. The rights guaranteed to the American people are anchored in the idea that all power begins with the people, and that the people transfer limited and defined powers to government to protect their inalienable rights. Rather than being out-of-date, these are transcendent ideas of which many are completely ignorant or never accepted in the first place.
Today a student can graduate from many public schools and never learn the differences between societies organized around the supremacy of the tribe and societies organized around the principles that promote prosperity and liberty. Public schools have almost stopped teaching the founding principles of America. In place of that, students are taught multiculturalism and the idea that is impossible to say which system is best.
Of course this is nonsense. We can say which system works best. When the tribe comes first, hatred and ancient superstitions are able to rear their ugly heads and cause poverty and suffering for millions.
Today, almost no politician of either party bears allegiance to the transcendent founding principles of America. Instead their allegiance is to expanding the reach of government into new and seemingly unlimited areas.
Without an understanding of our founding principles, campaigns for public office become popularity contests based on looks, personality, and who can promise the most. In such a cheap popularity contest, individuals making vague promises, who can articulate no principles, who have accomplished nothing in life, but who can speak well into a teleprompter, can rise to the top.
Perhaps because of his high-pitched voice and perhaps because he spoke with a lisp, Thomas Jefferson despised giving speeches. His State of the Union addresses were sent to be read rather than spoken before Congress. One of the great men in all of political history would have no chance of being elected to office today.
For millions of immigrants, the United States has been their last battlefield. They came from countries where their tribe, clan, or ethnicity was more important than their basic rights as human beings. They treasured the principles that made this country great because these principles have allowed more groups to unite in peace, harmony, and prosperity than have ever gathered anywhere on the planet. This rich legacy is being squandered away.
We could be only generations away from descending into tribalism; it can happen here if we continue to lose touch with our founding principles. For the ignorant among us, a vacation in Georgia or South Ossetia would be a worthwhile experience.