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Scumbag dictators, um, I mean, fine leaders of nations 2010-Sep-08 at 00:10 PDT

Posted by Scott Arbeit in Blog.
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My brilliant and beautiful girlfriend, Lauren, had an interesting reaction to my post from Monday.  I thought I should answer it here, and since I promised her that I wouldn’t take what she wrote to me out of context (well, I promised that after I told her that I totally would), here is the important part in its entirety:

So now I want to suggest that when you open your whole piece on Chavez and Venezuela by issuing the declaration that he’s a scumbag, you accept and perpetuate a frame that does not encourage or enact taking the view from love. That’s the way it feels to me. Scorn and rejection, embodied by name-calling, seem to have power, but actually have the effect in my opinion of weakening your effectiveness and influence, because it comes across as inconsistency and hypocrisy, because it has the feel of reaction and closure, not response and openness. Which feels like a lesser integrity if not a lack of integrity. Which makes some people less open to considering your views. Why should we discuss GW [Bush] respectfully, with willingness to seek to understand, while you exempt Chavez from this same respect and care? I want to be inspired to dig deeper in myself, to look at where I excuse myself from the call to love without condition, no exceptions. What inspires me most and will be most likely to call me to that level of integrity is witnessing it in others. So, where you are coming from seems to me to be deeply understandable, but I want to suggest that it is not the highest level of power you can come from.

And, no, we’re not in a fight or anything. :-)

So… I’m not sure if I’ll be able to win this one, but here’s what I’m thinking.

Let’s say that I call Kim Jong-Il a scumbag dictator.  Which I do.  The suffering of the North Korean people under the rule of this crime family is unimaginable.  North Koreans are 5 to 6 inches shorter than their cousins in South Korea, due to malnutrition.  Their IQ’s are 10-20 points lower.  Two million people have died from starvation and torture under his rule.  That’s twice as many as Saddam Hussein was responsible for killing, and Saddam is already a first-ballot Scumbag Hall of Famer.  His regime is responsible for selling hard drugs around the world to raise cash, and for selling nuclear technology to anyone willing to pay for it.

In other words, the very existence of the Kim regime in North Korea is a mortal threat to North Korea’s population specifically, and to the world as a whole.  I consider it to be a top foreign-policy objective of the United States and of Europe to end his family’s reign over North Korea, and to move towards Korean reunification.  The very minute that China entertains the idea of finally getting involved militarily in solving this problem, I consider it to be the United States’ highest military priority to move in, secure the country with the help of the Chinese, and to organize the logistics required to move towards a swift reunification with South Korea, along with creating a strong economic relationship between Korea and China.

With all of that said, can I take the view from love on Kim Jong-Il?  Well, yes, I can.  I can see him as a deeply wounded soul, someone who grew up as the son of a dictator (remember Uday and Qusay?), and who therefore never had the chance to develop a healthy sense of empathy.  I can see his soul as one that must now carry a lot of karma for endless lifetimes.  I can hold the story that his soul agreed to this incarnation before he came in, and that when his soul leaves the body it will remember the agreements it made.

I can hold all of that and more about poor little Jong-Il, and yet I also feel morally compelled to hold the position that, in this world, his continued existence remains a mortal threat to peace and stability around the world, perhaps more than any other single human being.  And, if I had the chance, I’d kill him… with my bare hands if I had to.

To me, the view from love suggests that a wake-up call is required around him and around this issue.  It boggles my mind how many people I talk to just aren’t aware of how bad it is in North Korea.  If calling him a scumbag shocks a reader into noticing, then I guess I’m all for it.  Perhaps there’s a more skillful way to do it – I could call him a worthless mother-fucking piece-of-shit scumbag dictator, perhaps – but until I find it, my current level of skill will have to do.

Along the same lines, let’s say I call Robert Mugabe a scumbag dictator.  Which I do.  He’s run the once-thriving economy of Zimbabwe into the ground, running the annual inflation rate up to 89,700,000,000,000,000,000,000% (that’s not a typo – 89.7 sextillion %), while allowing unemployment to skyrocket to over 94%, while enriching himself with as much of the nation’s wealth as he could.  He’s killed or imprisoned every political opponent he could over the last three decades, including the severe beating of, and then assassination attempt on, Morgan Tsvangirai, his supposed partner in a power-sharing government, in which Mr. Tsvangirai’s beloved wife, Susan, was killed.

Now, Mugabe isn’t quite the level of scumbag that Kim Jong-Il is, but that’s kind of like saying that Kerry Wood isn’t Sandy Koufax.  I mean, no one is Sandy Koufax.  But, still, Mugabe is a complete scumbag, and responsible for the suffering of millions of people in his own country, and in neighboring countries in Africa.  Again, can I take the view from love on him, and see his personal suffering in this lifetime?  Sure, I could.  But, again, so few of the people I speak to are even remotely aware of what he’s done to Zimbabwe (much less locate it on a map) that I’m choosing to shout about it rather than starting by being reasonable about it.

And, so, when I call Hugo Chávez a scumbag dictator (which I do)… again, he hasn’t quite inflicted the level of pain on Venezuela – yet – that Mugabe has on Zimbabwe.  And he’s nowhere near Kim Jong-Il on the scumbag list.  Hell, he’d have to get busy for the rest of his life to catch up to Kim on that score.  But… he has effectively had himself declared ruler-for-life, he’s shut down opposition media outlets, he’s had political opponents arrested and imprisoned, he’s run the Venezuelan economy into the ground, his policies have created food and energy shortages for his people, he’s responsible for a murder rate that puts Venezuela near the top of the list of most dangerous places to live, he’s been caught red-handed funding a terrorist insurgency inside of Colombia, he’s just begun to introduce cards that eventually will be used for food rationing, he’s demonized everyone in the Western world who could help him run things more effectively, and on and on.

We’ve seen this pattern before.  We know where it’s going.  We know the kind of limited mind that’s behind it.  And I think that we have a responsibility, globally, to ensure that the suffering in Venezuela doesn’t reach the level of Zimbabwe or, God forbid, North Korea, before we do something about it.  And so, I’m choosing to shout about it now, before it’s too late.

And if I’m losing power by calling him a scumbag dictator… I mean, what does it take to be a scumbag dictator these days?  What should I call him?  Just a dictator, without the scumbag?  Should I simply refer to him as the current President of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela?

I just don’t feel that way… I think having him in power is a deeply destabilizing force both for Venezuela and for South America as a whole.  The poor Colombians… it must suck to have Chávez for a next-door neighbor.

And, to me, anyone who draws any parallels between any of these three and President George W. Bush is just being intellectually dishonest, and immediately loses me.  President Bush made mistakes, like all Presidents do, but to accuse him of holding the kind of contempt for his fellow man that Kim, Mugabe, and Chávez do, well… that’s projection, and I can’t go there with you.  Dictators are special, and deserve special consideration.  And, in case you didn’t notice… President Bush wasn’t a dictator.  We don’t have dictators in the United States.  He served his terms in office, and left peacefully, and now we have a new President.  I like our new President quite a bit better, but I don’t demonize our previous one.

But, Kim, Mugabe, and Chávez?  Yeah, to me, and to their populations, and their neighbors, they are demons that ought to be removed from power for the safety and peace of the entire world.  I can’t see a level of development other than Green that wouldn’t agree.

And I hope Lauren will still talk to me after this…. :-P

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Comments»

1. madbluewings - 2010-Sep-09 at 09:21 PDT

Yes, she’ll still talk to you, but not to concede that you’ve won this debate.

In brief, I agree: dictators do bad things. I agree: sometimes intervention is called for. I disagree: one need not be a dictator to do bad things on an immense scale. To say Bush “made mistakes” as if his agenda was rooted in the best of intentions is, in my view, to give him and his administration an incredibly generous benefit of the doubt, one that I would say there is ample evidence to disprove. To call him a dictator, sure, that’s ridiculous. To say he and his administration are exempt from the same sort of scrutiny we would apply to analysis of a dictatorial regime kind of seems to imply that only dictators can cause harm on a god-awful scale, and this strikes me as disingenuous and wrong-headed.

Okay, so you probably are not saying he is exempt, but, when you say that anyone drawing parallels between Bush and those three dictators “immediately loses you”, to me that implies that you’re not open to a conversation that may reveal some legitimate parallels. To frame any such attempt as intellectual dishonesty is to convey that other perspectives are not likely to be considered in a spirit of openness and humility. It comes across, to me at least, as a dismissal. And, to argue for why more openness to that particular conversation could be worthwhile — I think it just depends on what sort of parallels and comparisons are being suggested. For example, if you look at it from an energetic perspective, investigating for parallels might be quite illuminating…

Anyway, you said in the “Vertical Development” post that this wasn’t about having a political debate, and my original comments in that letter to you were not about getting into the meat of that debate (in which we obviously bring some different perspectives to the table), but about looking at what is being offered by you, energetically, by choosing a certain language and stance. And I will say that for me it comes down to feeling the transmission of any given communication or “packet” of information, and that obviously is not just about content (though content and how it is framed is relevant when your business is ideation). I see your point. I think. I think you are saying you choose such language deliberately, because it gets your message across more effectively. I guess I disagree; I don’t think it is more effective, not in communicating the heart of the message. But maybe that’s because I think you have a message to offer that’s far more important than getting people to shift their thinking about Chavez. (And I think that it’s possible to both shift people’s thinking and offer new content from deeper perspectives, and energetically offer inspiration and invitation to open.) I still think choosing that approach and language perpetuates the energies of closure more than openness. And as silly as those considerations might seem in the context of a conversation on geopolitics, I see them as deeply important.

2. madbluewings - 2010-Sep-09 at 12:06 PDT

p.s. It is evidence of a good comedic impulse well-executed (and the capacity to not take yourself so seriously) that “scumbag” is one of your tags for this post. *Applause*

3. seth - 2010-Sep-11 at 12:25 PDT

Awwww…Lauren, I’m so happy you’re moving to Seattle and in Scott’s life! You’re impact is already felt.


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