Argumentation, relationship dialogue, international relations, these and other group behaviors have been and are often described in metaphors of war or fighting. To “stand your ground” and “not give up the high ground” is easily associated with maintaining a stance in the face of “fierce opposition” or against someone who comes in with “guns blazing.” Unloading with “both barrels” is a common euphemism from the midwest in which I grew up and the very foundation of “lining up your facts” has corollaries in trench warfare. War and fighting have long been a fascination of mine, succumbing to the social stereotypes of males being unequivocally associated with violence and the expenditure of force.
More than images was the emotional connections and subsequent framing of life as conflict which had a more lasting effect and guided much of my philosophical development. To say that I enjoyed a good argument growing up in my teens and early twenties would be quite the understatement, I lived and breathed for it. The notion of stomping upon my enemies (for what else were they when viewed from a militant frame?) and obliterating their arguments like so much flimsy fortifications was a profound emotional high. Fundamentalist conservative Christianity, with its incessant and ridiculous identification as martyrs facing the overwhelming hordes of secular society, gave fuel to this tendency. This tendency translated quite easily upon deconverting and finding myself in the land of ideological disenfranchisement (I was quite frustrated at not being able to find the raging secular hordes no matter how much I looked).
To rend and tear, destroy and smash, is to be a child ranting against the existential futility of life. I imagine rather well just how much the urgency with which life often seems to be pushing upon us can be transferred and metamorphosed into energy patterns of anger and frustration, when movement is felt to be thwarted by the claims or views of the person “standing in your way” as if “blocking the road of life.” As you can see, the metaphors continue and with them a funneling of the energy of life into a dark and almost entirely pointless flailing of angst-ridden pathos. We each become under these circumstances our own Atlas carrying the weight of the world, straining under the pressure of constantly seeking a new “beachhead” or “conquering another piece of ground.”
Time and maturity, or at least what passes for a close facsimile, has tempered the passions, guiding the energy down narrower paths and learning to pick battles which are truly meaningful rather than just there to be fought. Notice of course that the framing is still going on, warfare is still a part of my worldview. It is not such a bad thing though at times the emotional connections conjoined with this view make life more difficult than it should be, a fact I often smile at ruefully and then continue anyway. Enlightenment, it seems, is less a cognitive acknowledgment than a behavioral shifting or soul-filled identification with. What is known is not always what is acted upon.
On the American Atheists website, an organization that supports the social-political needs of atheists and secular americans, in describing their legal philosophy, it was noted that:
“It should be considered an act of legal negligence for one to take a case to a higher court where it is completely predestined that the court will rule against a meritorious cause, and thereby make bad law not only in that case, in that region of the country, but, depending on which appellate court is chosen, make bad law for a much wider area, where the bad ruling will be the law until the case in question is ultimately, if ever, overruled.”
This quote occurs amidst an excellent analysis of jurisprudence and as an answer to the tendency among some to want to fight every single battle, no matter how small or spurious the facts in question, via the courts. This struck me as a rather amazing philosophy to bring to life.
Holding a space for principle and values is different than positional living, just as it is in negotiating as William Ury and Roger Fisher note in Getting to Yes. The first is capable of nuance and movement, the latter is a black and white way of living where one’s idea is isolated. For instance, the difference can be noted between the phrasings “I want to work on how we communicate together” and “It’s my way or the highway.” They both point to a value of communication but the latter is positional and incapable of meeting new contexts. The other party may dismiss it, go around it or try to smash through it, but there is no sense in which the community aspect of communication is at all acknowledged and thus what could be a wonderful principle for living is reduced to a rock to be bludgeoned upon.
There are many moments in life where one must stand in a place of principle and proudly declare their ideas, the civil rights movement and gender rights come to mind. In everything from broad social difficulties to individual relationship frustrations, the question before us is not how we are going to fight but whether to do so at all. From this space of possibility, prior to blows being exchanged, are opportunities to relate to life and others in different, often more progressive ways, that a battlefield never would have afforded us the chance to explore.
© David Teachout