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It seems that much of politics, war, and even person-to-person conflict comes down to this:

“That guy has what I (or people I support) want and deserve, but he won’t give it up.  He’s being selfish. Hell, he’s uncaring, unreasonable, even inhuman — in other words, evil. If I take what’s rightfully mine from him, I’ll be doing good. And my goal of doing good justifies anything — slander, deceit, theft, violence,  or worse.”

This viewpoint is obviously wrong. Your possessing something that I want doesn’t make you evil.

But we sure do think and act as if it did.

After all, sometimes the side with all of desirable stuff really is evil. When white racists kept political and economic power to themselves and wouldn’t let African-Americans have any, the African-Americans fought for what they considered their fair share. And they were right to do it.

But more often, “He’s got what I want, so he’s evil” leads to horrid abuse against people who’ve committed no crime except having something that’s desirable. When white Americans wanted Indian lands but the Indians didn’t want to give them up, the Americans often resorted to slaughter, forced relocation, broken treaties, and other crimes — and justified it by arguing that the Indians were savages.

And so it goes today. Look at politics.

Many conservatives want to pull political power from Washington into states and communities (that is, closer to themselves) so that they can exercise more power over what goes on in places that they care about.  They denounce Washington as if everyone in it were corrupt and stupid.

Many on the left want to take economic power from big corporations and Wall Street, and put it where people like themselves can use it. They denounce the 1% as if all of them were greedy and heartless.

Look at business.

For a lot of companies, it’s not enough to make a profit; they despise the competition and want to destroy it: “That company gets customers and sales that we want and deserve. We’re going to take them away from those sons of bitches.”

I’m reminded of a story about CBS chairman William Paley: A delighted underling showed him the weekly ratings, in which CBS had nine of the top ten most-watched shows. Instead of being pleased, Paley is supposed to have grumbled, “That goddamned NBC always hangs in there for one.”

Look at personal relationships: When a woman won’t give a man access to her vagina, the guy is likely to grumble something like “Man-hating bitch.”

This approach is dangerous,  and not only to the people who have what you want and who suffer if you may attack them to get it. It’s dangerous to you, because it keeps you from seeing people as they are. It leads you to see things in a distorted, narrow, untrue way. That way lies insanity.

The conflicts between people have so much complexity that “I want what he’s got, and he’s evil if he doesn’t give it to me” isn’t the only motive.

But a lot of the time, it seems like the main one.

 

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