sun 17 feb 2008 10:01:09 witte de withstraat
once in a while i try to figure out what the dutch verb "relativeren" means. without looking it up, i mean. in most of the contexts i've seen it, it seems like when people say in english "to be philosophical about it". like when something just ain't right, but you have to be patient about why, lest you distance yourself from mainstream thought.
so just now i looked it up in my little NL-EN dictionary. "relativeren — relativize, put in perspective."
(it's interesting that they give "relativize" the z, american spelling, as if it were an american english term. i've never heard that word used in the american press. and most of the dutch in this prisma woordenboek translates to british english.)
why this term comes to my mind.
last night at dinner, i was already being disagreeably linear. for starters, while i was nervously trying to count six forks, knives and spoons out of the drawer, fretting that they weren't all the same color and not very well organized, someone tried to ask me something, and i kinda freaked: saying "hang on, i'm in the middle of a file operation!"
my friend was telling me how polish people think it's unfair that america has specifically denied free tourist visas to the polish, while granting them to other new EU members. especially after how the polish govt kissed bush's ass in the last few years, they feel it's kind of a slap in the face that america still makes it so difficult and expensive for polish people just to apply for a visit to the states. of course i agreed it was unfair, but only in the larger context, where national boundaries violate human nature anyway.
this engendered another variation on the usual disagreement i have with people, where they tell me about the dire consequences that would ensue in the rich free world, if just anybody could go wherever they wanted. i argued that those dire consequences would remain bad if only *some* countries opened up their borders. but that in the (admittedly unlikely) event that *all* nations stopped restricting human movement -- which is another way of saying "if all nations ceased to exist" --- then things would eventually settle down over a period of perhaps five hundred years. the problem, in my mind, is when people have very limited movement, they get stuck or stranded and in the worst case effectively become slaves of polities. my argument was that even if everyone in africa came to the netherlands, they wouldn't all stay here very long, because things wouldn't be very nice here. my friend pointed out that some people don't like that idea, that the quality of life in some places would take a nosedive in the absence of migration controls.
of course, that kind of preemptive panic has always sounded to me like the american arguments against the abolition of slavery in the 1800s. we can't just give up slavery, it will be an economic disaster. of course it will. but that doesn't outweigh the fact that slavery is wrong. for me the *ideal* wins, no contest.
the bottom line is, i can't think of any purely pacifist solution that includes guarded national borders. "guarding" anything can only have violence as its final recourse. it's very hard for a nonviolent person to effectively prevent people from going from one place to another. so any argument for nation-states can't help but turn into an argument against my pacifism. and since my pacifism is fundamentalist -- not "relativized" -- not even the most pragmatic or sentimental arguments can dissuade me of it.
like i said, i was already being disagreeably linear even before we had sat down to dinner.
but i guess it was my stance on this "clash of civilizations" hoopla that made me seem most unsympathetic.
my friend explained that islamic fundamentalists don't just want their ways tolerated in a pluralistic society, they want their ways to supplant everybody else's ways and to delete the pluralism. and some of those people are coming *here*. and that if someone doesn't protect the women from religious nutcases, the nutcases (men) will oppress the women. and since my friend doesn't want to have to die for disobeying such assholes, she has little patience for my 500 or 5000 year plans for humanity.
i can understand that.
but i still can't get over believing that the responsibility for defending our personal freedom, is ultimately a personal responsibility. i know that any movement for freedom is comprised of individual choices. hard choices. not everybody wants to be a guy standing up to a tank in tienanmen square. we're afraid.
and yet i know that if all the oppressed people on earth suddenly told their oppressors to fuck off, they would be free (or dead) within a matter of weeks. but like all oppressed people, the women we're talking about *feel* powerless. people are afraid. so my friends tend to think my view is "unrealistic".
i guess their realism is that they still believe in some regulatory santa claus that can (or bloody well should) protect our freedom. even after all the betrayal, deceit and outright larceny we've experienced, some of my best friends still believe we can entrust our freedom to the pretty promises of some polity. forgive me for being a "realist" here: we can't.
maybe that's why paine's tragic misapprehension of america is jumping out at me at this particular moment.