Monolithic Thinking

Something I?ve noticed when reading or watching science fiction is that when spacefaring protagonists come to a new planet, they tend to go straight to ?the leader?, and have no trouble finding the people who can speak for ?the planet?, indicating to the audience that the alien planet in question has one government, one people, etc. The tendency in the stories is to lump the aliens into one big group and then make sweeping statements about them, their government, etc. This is understandable, as the writers are first trying to tell a story not necessarily model reality, and secondly because the writers often use other worlds as metaphors for small countries on Earth, or as towns/cities/locales within a larger territorial context (as in Planet X in the Google Empire). It?s useful as a shorthand and most viewers take it in stride, since they understand the conventions of the genre, the lack of time to tell a more complete/complex tale, and want to get on with the story.

The alien people, of course, are crafted according to the needs of the story being told- if the writer wants to make an allusion to racism in the real world, he makes the aliens either an oppressed people on the world or in their larger empire, or are possessing of a minority that they oppress on that world. If the story is about heroic resistance to tyranny, the protagonist aliens are either a righteous rebel minority on the planet, or they?re a rebel planet, fighting against the larger evil Empire. And so on it goes, in all cases the aliens and the planet are set pieces for the larger message intended by the writer; sometimes the aliens and the planet aren?t important at all, but are merely backdrops to illustrate the righteousness of the visiting protagonists (unfortunately, usually from some ?enlightened? one-world / all-worlds human government).

The conventions of science fiction writing are fine and dandy when restricted to the small (or large) screen, but the problems begin when this sort of thinking spills over into the real world.

Specifically, when perusing much of the commentary on Iraq and the late war and current occupation, I see many blanket statements saying ?the Iraqis this? and ?the Iraqis that?, and the ?Iraqis? or Iraq are always used as a set piece for a larger message, depending on the author- the pro-war[1] bloggers trumpet pieces from sympathetic Iraqi bloggers and from military personnel and contractors on the ground who tell us what is going right, and thus ?the Iraqis? are obviously on board with fill-in-the-blank. The anti-war[1] bloggers latch onto any bad news, such as insurgencies, protests, pieces from sympathetic Iraqi bloggers, to tell us that thus ?the Iraqis? are obviously not on board with fill-in-the-blank. It would seem, though, that the fact that both sides seem to have no end of stories and opinions to support their positions would tend to negate statements about what ?the Iraqis? want, since the people of Iraq are not a monolithic group with the same beliefs, wants, needs, fears, angers, etc.

After all, Americans rightfully roll their eyes at European caricatures of the US, which usually latch on to some less than savory aspect of one portion of America, be it a region or subgroup, and use it as a broad brush to describe all Americans. We know that a New Englander is radically different from a Southwesterner living in Arizona, and that Southern Californians are different still. Being that we live in America, we know the diversity of places and peoples within and can laugh off Euros calling us all ?cowboys?, or that ?all Americans think X,? or ?the Americans are obviously Y,? etc.[2]

I?m not here to say that the approach taken by many of the pro-war and anti-war bloggers is necessarily wrong; the point of most peoples? blogging is to either express their opinion or to influence others to their way of thinking, after all. But I think it is important to realize that the situation in Iraq is certainly not as cut-and-dried as many would have you believe. Among the three ethnic groups[3] that comprise Iraq, one group held the whip-hand over the others in the old regime- it?s certainly reasonable to accept that there is going to be radically different reactions to the end of the old regime amongst those who have lost their privileged positions versus those who have lived away from the whip hand for a while (the Kurds) and those who were the targets of the daily oppression from the privileged (the Shi?ites). The conspicuous absence of any news from the Kurdish north should tell volumes about Kurds? ?revealed preference? regarding the occupation, and equally unsurprisingly, the most violence has been from the centers of the old regime (the so-called ?Sunni Triangle?), with lesser violence from the Shi?ites. Among each of these three groups are individuals who look at their particular circumstances of time and space and make decisions about what to do next- a great many Sunnis are peaceful, a large minority of Shi?ites are looking to reinstate the whip hand except this time against the Sunnis, some Kurds are anti-american terrorists, etc. Within the general flows, we must not forget that Iraqis are individuals and thus the situation is necessarily more complex on the ground than you may hear from either pro- or anti-war bloggers.


fn1. The use of pro-war is not to suggest that these people are literally in favor of war in general, but rather that they specifically supported the late war in Iraq against Saddam Hussein, though I?m sure there are some that are pro-war in the general sense. Likewise, not all that call themselves anti-war are literally anti-war (and are either pacifists or extreme isolationists), since a great deal of the leftist and illiberal opponents of the war in Iraq neither have trouble with the idea of ?intervention? (war) in general, nor have they had troubles with prior interventions, such as Haiti, Bosnia, Kosovo, etc. But, with this caveat, I used the less accurate terms for brevity?s sake.

fn2. Though, of course, when Americans engage in similar broad-brush caricature of Europe, it should be no surprise that it elicits similar eye-rolling and sarcastic dismissal from Europeans.

fn3. That is, the Kurds, the Sunni Arabs, and the Shi?ite Arabs. Of course, there are lesser minorities, such as Persians, Turks, Syriacs, and a plethora of smaller, yet historically significant (in the region) ethnicities.

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The General responsible has

The General responsible has been relieved of command.
Note that extreme humiliation is abuse -- but is it torture? Some 35 cases of abuse, and 25 cases of Iraqi prisoners killed; 10 still under investigation.

The deaths are worse than the humiliation.
The media balance is wrong. Not sure if Bush is responding correctly. Dumping a female General seems about right.