Sunday, January 13, 2008


On Thursday I went to see a prominent neoconservative author speak at the 92nd Street Y. (He shall remain nameless so my blog doesn’t become swamped with neocons doing Google searches.) I knew I would disagree with virtually everything he said, but I wanted to better understand where he and others like him are coming from.

One thing he said that I found interesting: If someone wants to kill you, you cannot negotiate with them. This was at the crux of his argument that the United States should take military action against Iran.

I don’t agree with that assessment. I think you can ALWAYS negotiate. As long as you have something to offer - economic purchasing power or global legitimacy, for example - negotiation is feasible.

But it got me thinking about the different ways people approach conflict. I was taught that smart people don’t fight. I’ve always been a mediator, a reasoner, a negotiator. I don’t remember ever having a physical brawl with anyone, even back in school, and I’ve never been convinced that physical confrontation is really necessary. One can approach anything with diplomacy.

I may be wrong - maybe sometimes you have to fight. I’m sure this author and others would accuse me of being historically naive. And if you’ve grown up with a different perspective, willing to fight, and you’ve had success with that approach, I can see how you might advocate military action. But that’s an utterly foreign language to me.

(Photo: Chinatown, Dec. 2007)


  1. I, too am a pacifist. I'm very lucky to live at the top of the American cultural food chain (not the very top). Up here in the realm of the well educated and financially viable, violence is a rare thing. But just a few blocks away from my swanky neighborhood, violence, physical conflict, is an everyday event.

    Can't imagine what it's like to grow up in Iran (or any of a zillion other places). My idea of what it means to negotiate, or even that it's possible to negotiate, comes from all of my experiences. Maybe it's not possible for many folks.

    But no matter what, even if negotiation is impossible, we shouldn't go on the attack first - there's no excuse for that!

    Thanks, dah-link, for making me think - and on a Sunday! Wow!!

  2. I commend you for even going to see a neoconservative author - I simply cannot do such things - I become too angry and it disturbs my peace of mind. Not very Zen, I know...

  3. I try not to let people's political positions bother me. Whether they are left or right, I don't need to be agitated.

    I don't think that all people are open to negotiation, though. Sometimes people hold irrational world views and common ground is nonexistent. Violence and military action should be an option, but the very last option.

  4. In the movie "The Lemon Drop Kid" Bob Hope negotiated with mobsters who wanted to do him bodily harm--as a kid, I always thought his humor disarmed them on some level--they were having a conversation, anyway--keeping those lines of communication open and I learned from that movie that you can always negotiate.

  5. I think Mahatma Ghandi would agree with you and the Dalai Lama. Good company really.

    Came here from Lettuce Eating.

  6. I agree with everything you have said. It good that you took time to get the other side of the story. I still feel that these people are out for a fight with Iran come what may.

  7. I love the photo--nice an chaotic, it makes no sense but you can't stop wondering...

    I love graffiti

  8. Reya: You bring up a very good point -- that my nonviolent outlook is partly the result of relative privelege. I definitely need to acknowledge that. Thanks!

    Also, I'm aware that many people were unwillingly drawn into violent confrontations over the years so that I can enjoy this worldview, and to them I am grateful. I hope that in our modern world of better communication, resources and diplomatic processes and institutions, we're in a better position to avoid such conflicts.