I have met a very interesting young man in Indonesia through my on line presence in Ubuntu IRC chat at the irc.ubuntu.com server (using the irc client Konversation.)
He has asked me to comment, as an American, regarding how I perceive Obama’s foreign policy. I am starting this thread here, so I may email to him the link. I shall be adding to this thread my thoughts over the next day or so. I clearly have in mind certain opinions, but the mind thinks at lightening speed, in a gestalt fashion (many things at once), and it takes time to project the multidimensional nature of thought into a linear expository expression. So I shall post this for now, and make various social networks such as Facebook and Plurk aware of its presence, and then begin to add my thoughts and impressions in a fashion which I hope will be fair to the European and most especially the far East point of view, and yet accurate with regard to America past and present, and the circumstances which Barack Obama reluctantly has inherited.
It is ironic that I should be approached today by an Indonesian when last night I watched a long documentary, hosted by Daljit Dhaliwal, on the huge health problem caused in Indonesia by the American controlled cigarette industry.
I have always admired Indonesia for being the largest Islamic democracy in the world (if I am not mistaken) and for having a fairly open-minded secular view. I am told that honor killings, so common in Pakistan and even in India among certain Hindus, are unknown in Indonesia. A year ago I read that the mullahs in Indonesia were composing a fatwah against smoking as being haram (forbidden). By the way, I also admire Tunesia (another Islamic nation) which has a zero tolerance policy towards honor killings. Furthermore, I want to mention that Morocco was the very first nation to sign a treaty of friendship with America after the war of independence (a treaty which is still in effect today). Morocco instituted a religious training program for women who work with the mullahs around the country to guard against overly extremist teachings which might lean towards terrorism. I also greatly admire Kemal Attaturk for his efforts to modernize Turkey and wean it from the ways of the Ottoman empire (that sick man of Europe). I am saying all these things to express the many ways in which Islamic societies have succeeded in achieving a secular moderate form which is tolerant of minority diversity. I do realize that Indonesia is not without its problems of friction with its Christian minorities. I think it is very important for non-Muslims to constantly remind themselves of all the moderate and congenial forms which Islam has assumed over the centuries. And conversely, I shall attempt to summarize some of America’s short-comings in order to be fair and honest. And it is important for Europe, the Middle East and the Far East to remind themselves of all the many good points about America. Both sides have made the grave mistake of demonizing each other at points, and stereotyping and profiling, but we must not continue in this path or it will only lead to more violence.
If both sides are to achieve balance and harmony, and the world is very much divided right now into two “camps”, then each side must do its utmost to praise it’s opponent for all the good points and to confess its own shortcomings.
“Carrot and Stick” are the exact words which my Indonesia friend used. My Filipina wife asked me exactly what is mean by “Carrot and Stick.” I explained that there are old jokes and cartoons about people who want to motivate a simple-minded mule or donkey harnessed to a cart, and so they tie a carrot to a stick, and hold it just beyond the animal’s reach, and so the gullible creature struggles forward, hoping to approach the carrot, but of course never makes any progress and most likely never even gets to eat the carrot. Over the years, a different notion of stick has crept in; the notion of “speak softly and carry a big stick.” So, a carrot and stick policy means that if you do what we want we shall reward you, but if you dont cooperate, then we shall hurt you.
Our very next task is to avail ourselves of google search and find out just what the rest of the world is saying about America’s carrot and stick policy, since we are so wrapped up in what our media considers important that we are often unaware of what the rest of the world thinks or feels.
We find references to a carrot and stick policy with regard to many nations:
WELL, I could perhaps go on and on. Google yields a total of 800 results on a search of OBAMA CARROT AND STICK.
I really had no idea what I would find out from this search but it seems that I have stumbled across a veritable forest of carrots and sticks! Poor Barack is beginning to resemble Bugs Bunny, and I suppose all the groups who have a gripe with Obama are beginning to resemble Elmer Fudd.
Now if I make some joke about “slap stick comedy” (carrot stick slap) you will rightly accuse me of being too corny (carrot, corn).
I am not trying to make light of my Indonesian friend’s important question, but there is an amusing side to all this which is quite unexpected.
We all realize that at the heart of all discord lies two sides with conflicting interests. Peaceful solutions always involve negotiations which we hope will ultimately resolve into what is regarded by both sides as a “win-win” situation where each side maximizes its gains and minimizes loss. Of course, the non-peaceful approach is war, where both sides suffer death and destruction, and the winner takes all. So, at the heart of any negotiation is what may be viewed as “carrots and sticks.”
The entire world is driven by media spin and rhetoric of buzz-words
and buzz terms. “Carrots and Sticks” is but one buzz-term. If you will pardon another pun, whenever our knee-jerk reaction leads us to trot out buzz terms, then we are starting out with a tremendous CHIP (get it, stick, wood, chip) on our shoulders.
At first, I did not know which country my IRC friend was from, but I guessed India, because he was very formal and polite. He begged my pardon for sending me a private message, and then he addressed me as “Sir”. Only young people from India, or Malaysia or Indonesia will be this polite to their elders. And everyone in IRC knows my full name, knows that I am age 60, which astounds then, for they do not encounter anyone as ancient as 60 in IRC. My friend was very timid and hesitant to ask me his question, for he feared I might be defensive of America and my President. He does not realize that being a white American, I have a great deal of contempt for the bad things I see in American history, and the evil I see from centuries of white European Christian colonial aggression, slavery, exploitation and genocide.
One college student in India once mentioned Che Guevara to me, and assumed that as an American I must hate Che Guevara. I explained to him that actually Americans admire bandit revolutionary types like Che Guevara. We wear Che Guevara tee-shirts, and see such a persona as similar to our John Wayne types. We also very much admire India’s Pulan Devi (the woman bandito who could never be captured by India’s government). The student in India was shocked that I knew about Pulan Devi, and was not so pleased that I admire her and rubbed his nose in his own nation’s dark side.
When I learned that my new friend is from Indonesia, I mentioned that his language is Bahasa Indonesia, and that Bahasa shares the same root as Bhasa Braj which is the language of Vrindavan in which the Asta Chapp poets of the 13th century composed. He was somewhat surprised and perhaps embarrassed that I knew some things about his culture of which he is unaware.
I did not mention to him Bhoomi Putra (son’s of the soil), also spelled Bhumi. If you google on this term you will mostly find
links about Indonesia’s highest award. But, Bhumi Putra has a different meaning. I met a Chinese minority from Indonesia, and I mentioned Bhumi Putra, and he spat and said “no good.” If someone is born in Indonesia but is not Muslim, their rights are somewhat limited. But, if they CONVERT to Islam, THEN they become Bhumi Putra, and have special rights and perhaps even receive some land. Perhaps I am confusing Bhumi Putra with Malaysia
Now, I am not trying to make light of the “carrot and stick” question. I am not trying to make Indonesians and Malaysians feel bad. And I am not trying to make Americans look good.
Let us look at Barack Obama for a moment. His mother was Caucasian. His father was African. Genetically, Barack COULD have come out looking white as wonder bread, white as me. If Barack had been born with white skin, Americans would have seen him in a very different light, because Americans are basically stupid. Most of humanity is basically stupid. A white looking Barack would be just as Negro (half Negro to be precise) as a dark skinned Obama. But the American public would have had a harder time seeing his election as a first for Negroes. I only mention this to underscore the low common denominator of mentality which makes this political world of our go ’round.
Sunday afternoon, day 2 of this blog, Dec 27, 2009
I was pleased to find that my new friend, Giri Alam, has added me to Facebook, so now we may get to know one another better and peer through the blog portal into the world of America and the world of Indonesia, through an old man’s eyes, and a young man’s eyes.
And thank you so much for contacting me in Ubuntu IRC and asking me this very interesting question. I am just having my Sunday late morning coffee, and thinking about what I want to add to that post.
Part of my efforts in that post will be to paint a picture of how I imagine Europe, South America and Asia view America and also now America sees itself, its self-interest, and the rest of the world.
When I first searched on “carrot and stick” I did not realize how WIDE SPREAD that phrase is, both abroad and at home. I think this demonstrates a world-wide reluctance to admit that there MUST be compromise on each side of each issue, whether political, economic or religious. We must not resent the very process itself of peaceful negotiation because none of us can have our cake and eat it too (as the old saying goes.) Whenever diplomacy and arbitration fails, the next step is violence whether in a formal declared act of war, or guerrilla tactics, or individual acts of terrorism.
I shall now paste this very post at the bottom of my blog and try to add thoughts throughout the day.
Now we see how easy it is for two people of vastly separated geographically and in age and culture to become friends.
OK…. HERE IS THE BIG QUESTION! IS THERE SOME WAY, ANY WAY FOR ALL THE OPPOSING SIDES, Muslim, Jew, Christian, Hindu, Buddhist, Communist, Capitalist, Industrialist, Farmer, etc to find compromises which allows us all a measure of freedom to live as we see fit without threatening one another?
I am going to introduce a term which some of you may have seen and for others it will be a new concept. The term is MEME.
Not only do we live in an electronic village where people living at opposite sides of the globe may be friends, but we share a body of knowledge which we may search and link to at will, which some years ago I began to call META-MIND, when I said “Internet is metamind”. All I need to do is throw a handful of links at you like so much pixie dust from Tinkerbell in a fairy tale, and suddenly, your mind has wrapped or grokked around something totally new and different.
Now, why should it be necessary for me to throw the pixie dust of all these links at you (all of you) and hope that you GROK them? What could any of this possibly have to do with the simpler question of what I as an American think of Barack Obama’s “carrot and stick” policies?
Let us look at a brief excerpt from Cardinal Newman’s writings:
WE are in a world of facts, and we use them; for there is nothing else to use. We do not quarrel with them, but we take them as they are, and avail ourselves of what they can do for us. It would be out of place to demand of fire, water, earth, and air their credentials, so to say, for acting upon us, or ministering to us. We call them elements, and turn them to account, and make the most of them. We speculate on them at our leisure. But what we are still less able to doubt about or annul, at our leisure or not, is that which is at once their counterpart and their witness, I mean, ourselves. We are conscious of the objects of external nature, and we reflect and act upon them, and this consciousness, reflection, and action we call our rationality. And as we use the (so called) elements without first criticizing what we have no command over, so is it much more unmeaning in us to criticize or find fault with our own nature, which is nothing else than we ourselves, instead of using it according to the use of which it ordinarily admits. Our being, with its faculties, mind and body, is a fact not admitting of question, all things being of necessity referred to it, not it to other things.
As I now write about “illation” and “groking” to answer my Indonesian friend’s question about “carrot and stick” policy, and now quote from Newman’s “Grammar of Assent” (with the intention of dragging into all this the Jain concept of Anekantavada), why is it that thoughts of Bonhoeffer’s “Cost of Discipleship” (seemingly so unrelated) suddenly enter my mind?
Sorry for being away from this complex issue for so long, but I had to post many things in a Facebook thread discussion on Aquinas, Iranaeus and Christianity vs. modern humanism, with special reference to Hans Kung’s “On Being Christian”.
If you were to ask me the worst thing that America has done to Indonesia, and the nicest thing they have done FOR Indonesia, I would have to say, off the top of my head, that the worst thing is the Philip Morris Tobacco company using Indonesia to promote smoking especially among teenagers, and the best thing is that America and the WHO (World Health Organization) REALIZES what a terrible thing it has done, and has tried to get Indonesia to sign an agreement that would make life for tobacco companies more difficult.
If you were to ask me regarding the worst things that America has done in its history, I would have to answer the enslavement genocide of native Americans, the enslavement of Africans, and colonial aggression against Hawaii, the Philippines, and various Caribbean Central and South American nations under various guises and euphemisms of liberation and economic aid.
If you were to ask me the best things that America has given to the world, I would have to say the notion of a Constitution and constitutional law (and slowly but surely, International Law) and some genuine concern for human rights even in places that do not contain oil (although the mercy and justice of liberation is far swifter in oil bearing nations).
In order for you to understand MY view of things, you must in some sense BECOME me, and see what I have seen, and know what I know after the fashion that I know it. This is why I mention Cardinal Newman’s Illation in his Grammar of Conviction which is simply to say that we arrive at our convictions and certainties after years and years of very small experiences and observations which add up to the person that we are.
If you happen to be, say Ibn Khaldun of 14th century Tunisia then that constellation of experiences causes you to see the truth of reality in one way.
Anekantavada is an ancient Jain philosophical concept which fits right in with Cardinal Newman’s illation.
It refers to the principles of pluralism and multiplicity of viewpoints, the notion that truth and reality are perceived differently from diverse points of view, and that no single point of view is the complete truth.
So, you see, I am quite un-American to the degree that I see McCain’s brand of patriotism as monstrous. And I am quite Socratic to the degree that I see myself as a “citizen of the world” (and how large was the known world when Socrates allegedly said that, since the total human population in 400 b.c.e. is estimated to be only 6 million, and not todays 6.7 billion.)
One young, enthusiastic, rather ill-educated Republican boasted to me on Facebook that America is the BEST because Canada could not beat up Vermont, and Canada realizes this, and Vermont realizes this. How tragic that one should view the greatness of one’s nation and culture in terms of coercive destructive force!
Yet Putin of Russia glories in the fact that as a former KGB operative he can still beat people up in a martial arts competition.
I understand that Obama’s big sports accomplishment is in basketball, so he might out DUNK you but he would not dream of KERPLUKING you.
You see, the pen is mightier than the sword (and this we all agree) but shall the spoken and written word prove mightier than a marving nuclear warhead? This remains to be seen!