Citizens of the World: Please Stop Hating Everyone

* Disclaimer: This is not a travel-related post in the typical Pocket Gypsy-style. However, it discusses an incredibly important topic of which every American should be well-versed. After all, traveling Americans are the cultural ambassadors of this wonderful country, and the educated amongst us help to turn the tide on anti-American sentiment. Maybe if more level-headed Americans traveled to the Middle East, we wouldn’t be so hated as a nation.

New York City

New York City

Dear Citizens of the World,

Please stop hating each other.

For all our talk about love, we as a race (and I mean human race) are a very vengeful kind, seeking punitive damages and public shame. Any time someone displeases us, our wrath is unleashed on Facebook, or as a nasty side-comment, or in an unkind text message. We so quickly release tiny bursts of anger or judgement, perhaps to relieve ourselves from feeling its burden, but we unintentionally add to the toxic environment in which we’re slowly rotting.

In an informational interview with a McKinsey fellow, I answered the question of why I’m interested in sustainability by noting that it’s one of very few issues in the world that affects everyone. Yes, some feel environmental harm more than others, and this justice issue is only one part of the overall movement. But as I’ve noted in earlier posts, the damage caused by Fukushima (for example) is something everyone, regardless of their national or social boundaries, must seek to remedy. The world is evermore intertwined, and our arbitrary distinctions of states and identities no longer blinds us to our global responsibilities. What is a more common cause than protection of the earth?

The conversation gradually turned to the impact of American hegemony in culture formation (conspicuous consumption, which I decry and she proposed might be necessary for the upswing in economy). Unexpectedly, she asked me point-blank what I thought of America’s intervention in Syria. (The Washington Post included a fairly succinct, albeit simplistic, explainer that has been making the internet rounds – read this if you’re not sure what’s going on.) I wasn’t sure if this was a test, so I answered cautiously; I feel that America’s entrenched involvement with the Middle East has yielded complicated but thoroughly negative results, and pride over the contentious position as the global monopole at this point is less important than a commitment to human rights and dignity. Which, perhaps perversely, means we need to step away from Syria and allow the capable rebel armies to fight their own battle.

Prague, Czech Republic

Prague, Czech Republic

American aid, in my opinion, is better utilized in situations where there is no struggle – only because the people are so beaten by their circumstances that they need someone external to give credibility and attention to their troubles. This is not the case in Syria; the world is watching, and no lives are saved and no punishments are dealt by preemptively warning the government responsible for heinous war crimes that a cruise missile – tipped with depleted uranium, another social and environmental disaster– is coming. So unless more countries open their borders to refugees, and those innocents in the line of fire are safely out of harm’s war, there’s nothing that the international community can do to smother this sectarian civil war. The primary reason for such conflict – minority rule by the Alawites following the creation of an arbitrary national border- is a response to previous Western meddling, so what makes us think that we’d do any better this time?

Syria deserves better. But now the cord of Syrian nationalism is wrapped around the neck of the Syrian people, asphyxiating your dreams of sovereignty and freedom. A mediated peace alongside a process for genuine democratization guaranteed by your neighboring states would strengthen the chances for the renewal of your national ambitions. Anything else will simply lead to the destruction of your country, its history, and its future. – Vijay Prashad, Jadaliyya

Berlin, Germany - Tolerance (of sorts) at Templehof

Berlin, Germany – Tolerance (of sorts) at Templehof

Alright, so we understand that going into Syria is a bad idea for multiple reasons. There are strategic, economic, political, social, humanitarian, etc. explanations for why we shouldn’t get involved. (For an in-depth political-wonk analysis of said reasons and other considerations, click here.) But the most compelling argument, to me, is that which analyses our options as positive or negative for the whole of humanity. Putting aside our own opinions about al-Qaeda or Hamas or Hezbollah and how this might potentially affect our relationships with each of these groups, is inflicting more damage onto an already damaged region in response to past damages a net positive or net negative action? When operating from a place of punishment, this action can only be negative, regardless of its intended impacts.

I’m not saying that discipline isn’t necessary, or that violations to the Geneva Convention should be treated lightly. Of course not. But considering that Syria never ratified the second protocol of the Geneva Conventions, which specifically referred to victims of internal armed conflict, are Western notions of justice appropriate, particularly in a decidedly anti-American region? Anyone disagreeing would have a valid point. And in a highly militarized and networked world, is trigger-happy behavior going to bring us closer to our end goal of ending violence altogether? No. Absolutely not. It’s time for everyone to reevaluate their powers and responsibilities, and think of how to satiate the needs of the most while minimizing the damage dealt to the unfortunate minority. Despite being a Western liberal, I believe that there’s value in everyone’s opinion – even the jihadists – and working with and not against people we disagree with is the only way to make positive change.

Sachsenhausen, Germany - "Neutral Zone: You will be immediately shot without warning."

Sachsenhausen, Germany – “Neutral Zone: You will be immediately shot without warning.”

… Yes, yes, it’s easy to advocate for inaction, because that’s the default position of most Americans anyway. But this philosophy of collaboration, understanding, and hesitation in judging another being’s actions can and should be spread to other sectors of our lives. Believing in a worthy cause is admirable, for sure, but there’s only so much distinction between the extremism of a jihadist and a leftist ideologue. Something I’ve noticed with extreme feminists, extreme class warriors, extreme race liberators is that this extremity blocks them from seeing the positive beyond their myopic ideal outcomes.

I’m all for gender equality, obviously – but I choose to appreciate a man who also stands for my rights, rather than tear him down for appropriating my power. I like Macklemore, not just because he makes catchy tunes and proper music videos, but because he recognizes and respects his position as a white MC in a traditionally black scene, and he doesn’t apologize for it (nor should he!). I don’t see the Gates Foundation as “yet another example of rich people guilt,” but rather yet another way in which people have sought to help others. Extremists will always want for more, but by ignoring or dismissing the influence of allies tapped into the mainstream and eager to sway a change, they’re just creating oppositional “them against us” mentalities.

I will not contribute my gender or my racial status to building that wall. And I will not tolerate my country’s attack on a vulnerable nation, particularly when I don’t support it. But it happens all the time. So all I can do is try to make positive change, radiate positive energy, and attempt to be one more tree planted to soak up the political carbon dioxide in the world.

You and me? Let’s start a forest.

Love (verb),

Pocket Gypsy

Copenhagen, Denmark

Copenhagen, Denmark