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Us vs. Them

There are conflicts and there are talks about those conflicts. Both need each other to survive. A conflict needs warring parties to gross generalize the enemies intension, which leads to great misapprehension of the conflict and conflict can go on for ever. A talk of conflict needs misconduct in war by their enemies such that more inflammatory speech can be delivered and enemy can be easily mis-represented. This mutual feed back can be tamed if certain care is taken in both conduct of conflict and talk of conflict. Conflict is messy and hard to monitor but the talk of conflict can be analyzed with relative ease.

The most serious problem about the conversations about conflicts is the “us vs. them” notion. People see their side as not one whole. They see different component in their system working. For example, news media, army, political parities, and bureaucracy. These components may not agree with each other all the time but they loosely fit together to build the whole system. This creates a standard of responsibilities in people’s mind. If any criminal act is done my some component of the system then people say that this crime is committed by this component of the system and it is responsibility of this component and whole system can not be blamed for the crime. For example, some military unit of their country kills some innocent civilian then the responsibility totally lay on the military unit but not on their country. On the other hand when the same people look at other conflicting side. They do not recognize the different components or faction on the other side’s system. They call all the component of the opponent as ‘virtualy same’. This monolithic view of the opponent leads to a different standard of responsibility imposed on the opponent. Any crime committed by anyone in opponent side is the responsibility of the whole opponent side. This different standard of assigning responsibility leads to highly skewed analysis of the conflict which can lead to fertile ground for misunderstanding and disastrous decision making.

For example, India and Pakistan conflict. After any terrorist attack in India, Mr. Modi comes to tv and blames Pakistan. Not the terrorists or Pakistani Army but the whole Pakistan. If Indian army does extra judicial killing then media reports the name of the officers who are responsible for the crime but not whole India. This leads to a perception of squeaky clean image of India, which does nothing wrong. In contrast, Pakistan, the rouge state, which can not be stopped for doing one crime after another. Similar attitude is true in Pakistan. For example, the recent row over not selecting any Pakistani players in IPL auctions. Here is an interview of a Pakistani player, who was not selected. He says at 4:21 to 4:23, “Hinduo ki zehniyat hi aisi hai” . He just blames all the Hindus for the mistreatment in some business event. (Courtesy: RTODM)

Another example, 9/11 attacks in US. For an American, taliban and Al-qaida are virtually same. They all are should be punished for a crime which was planned and executed by a bunch of Al-qaida members in extreme secrecy. The same mistake is done by these Muslim extremists. They assign responsibilities of criminal dealing of American businesses with middle east rulers to the whole country “America”. So, they are out there to kill any American.

I think this grave mistake can be avoided. We have to be vigilant and challenge whenever these gross generalization are made. Specially, when it is made by “us”.

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  1. Vaibhav
    February 3, 2010 at 1:35 pm

    “Conflict is messy and hard to monitor but the talk of conflict can be analyzed with relative ease.”

    That is a nice observation. In fact, you also perhaps realize, that it is a fairly broad observation applying to not merely conflicts – it is much simpler to keep a tab on the ‘abstract’ (in this case conflict) through grips on the ‘concrete’.

    Good writings, btw.

  2. Ashutosh GUPTA
    February 3, 2010 at 9:33 pm

    Thanks for the compliment.

    Sometimes concrete so detailed and convoluted such that you can’t make sense out of it. Then you pick an abstract of the concrete. And, talk about abstract. You can only hope that abstract contains enough details such that analysis remains sound. A good analyzer always keeps in his/her mind that the abstract me totally wrong.

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