Let That Be Your Last Battlefield

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.

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6 Responses to Let That Be Your Last Battlefield

  1. Frank v2 says:

    Dr. B,
    You suggest that “(f)or 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”, and as an immigrant myself, I could not agree more. Since the horrific events of 911 our basic rights are gradually being eroded in the name of “homeland security”, and we as a people are sitting back and allowing this to happen. And to your point, not one of our politicians from either party has the cojones to stop this erosion of our civil liberties. It is up to us, the people to turn off our TVs and say “enough is enough”. But unfortunately, like Joni Mitchell once said, “don’t it always seem to go, that you don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone…” By the time the majority of Americans finally figure what is happening, it may be too late. I hope, for the sake of my granddaughter, that I am wrong.

  2. Frank,

    Not only our civil liberties but our economic liberties are vanishing. And very importantly few understand or reflect on the source of either. Like you I fear for our children and grandchildren–the ride for all of us is going to be very very bumpy.

  3. James D. says:

    As you point out, our educational system has failed us, and failed us badly. While they are busy teaching multiculturalism and moral sophistry, they have come to nearly completely ignoring those founding principles. Now they worry more about who wronged who in history as opposed to the how and the why of moving past that wrong into a richer future. They no longer even mention what makes America a superior place. It is wrong to say that America is better. Tony Blair once remarked that one measure of a nation’s greatness is how many people are trying to get in. By that score, this is still the greatest nation on earth!
    But we still aren’t taught what it is that makes America great. Our ancestors came here to get away from tribes and clans and the aristocracy that prevented them from becoming more. We aren’t taught about economic suppression of groups, of taxes and laws intentionally put in place to oppress or deny a particular group (maybe because they’d cut a little too close to home). We are no longer taught that it was freedom that made us great, that we didn’t have the bondage created when we judge a group by an accident of birth than about what they contribute to society as people. That hard work and free trade could improve even the most humble lot in life.
    The list of qualities that made America great is a long one, but one by one they seem to be slipping away. We are too far removed from those who remember oppression and hatred and we seem to have forgotten the lessons.

  4. Jim,

    Excellent points. Many people don’t understand that being angry at the past makes them less effective in creating a better future. They think that their anger is a necessary motivator and without the anger and the story around it they would be nothing. Yes indeed their ego would be smaller but who they truly are would be bigger and more effective.

  5. igli1969 says:

    There was a Doonesbury strip some time ago that showed an American and Iraqi soldier going to arrest a suspect. The Iraqi says his family has a blood feud with the suspect’s family, since “A member of his family killed a member of mine.” The American asked, “When did this happen?” To which the Iraqi replied “1387.”

    Tribal societies, or “honor-based” societies, see the world as a zero-sum game. To their members, no one can gain without someone else losing. And since none of these societies has the concept of property rights based on the rule of law, there’s not much of a pie to slice up. In their mind, that means that “someone else” has been stealing their pie. So they look around to find, and blame, that someone. Oh, s**t! That’s what our society (except for the widespread poverty) is starting to sound like!

    The so-called public education system, I agree, carries much of the blame for this. In actuality, it should be called a “re-education” system. The propagandizing and brainwashing gets far more time than training kids how to do independent research, think analytically, and recognize logical fallacies. The real purpose of the public schools is to turn out compliant “citizens.” It does that quite well.

    Yes, the politicians take advantage of those people, and fan the flames of group hatred. They do not care what happens to those they take advantage of, as long as they get re-elected, and (commonly) reward their family and/or friends with jobs, earmarks, or other favors. Just like a tribal society. And yes, these attitudes are also promulgated by the mass media (TV and newspapers); heck, even some “economic writers” buy into this cr . . . uh, stuff.

    And don’t get me started on the KGB, oops!, I mean Homeland Security, and their inbred, halfwit cousins, the TSA. The government “War On” programs, whether drugs, terrorism, or poverty, are smoke-screens for a war on individual rights and wealth. And the constant state of uncertainty, both in the US and abroad, that the government maintains, raises prices in general, reduces investment, and promotes tribalism (“I’ve got to hold on to what’s left of MINE!”).

    Lots of luck, y’all. Keep thinking clearly, and keep your powder dry.

    Chris C.

  6. Chris,

    Thank you for your very fine analysis. The problem is indeed systemic.

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