It may surprise people that I would take a position contrary to the perceived interests of my tribes, my tribes being America, Judaism, and Maleness. After all, American politicians practically fall over trying to outdo one another on toughness toward Iran. And, aren’t Jews supposed to support Israel, a country that sees Iran an an existential threat? Plus, men, in general, seem to be the people who promote war.
It bothers me that a person’s perceived self-interest so often determines their opinion. Thus, whenever there’s a vote to increase the local school budget, the townsfolk can be pretty much counted to vote according to whether they happen to have children in the local school at the time. People who’s children have already graduated often vote no; they will tell you that their taxes are already too high and that the school wastes money. People with children in the school, and employees of the school, generally vote yes, wanting to support the school and education in general. It would be nice to think that it is is possible to step outside of your personal self-interest and look at a problem a bit more objectively.
As for Iran and nuclear weapons, let’s have some moral clarity:
We shouldn’t tell anyone to get rid of their nuclear weapons until we get rid of our own nuclear weapons.
Now, Americans will tell you various things to justify what is obviously a hugely hypocritical position. They will say that Iran can’t be trusted, that they are led by a madman, that they broke the nonproliferation treaty.
Let’s step outside ourselves as Americans (or supporters of America) and see whom we can’t trust with nuclear weapons. The United States is the only country ever to have dropped nuclear weapons on people. In fact, we did it twice. The Unites States also tested nuclear weapons on its own people. We displaced an entire civilization to blow up their island homeland with nuclear bombs. We tested a nuclear bomb near a Japanese fishing boat, killing a crew member. Radioactive fallout from our atomic bomb tests fell on the marshall Islands, Australia, India and Japan, the U.S. and Europe, and contaminated the Japanese food supply. More recently, the U.S. used depleted uranium missiles in the Gulf War, the war in Bosnia, the bombing of Serbia, and dropped between 1,000 and 2,000 tons of depleted uranium bombs on Iraq in 2003.
So, now the United States, with a nuclear arsenal large enough to destroy the world many times over, is once again threatening to to bomb a country (Iran) because they may be developing a nuclear weapon.
Now that we have stepped out of our American skins long enough to look objectively at our own history with nuclear weapons, I’d like you to do something that many people will find unthinkably difficult: Think about things from the point of view of the “other,” of Iran. Iran’s mortal enemy, Israel, actually has nuclear weapons. While Iran has never invaded its neighbors, Israel has, many times. And, on the other side of the world, the largest nuclear superpower on the planet is complaining that your country might be trying to develop a nuclear bomb. The United States is twisting arms in the U.N. to impose broad economic sanctions on your nation, and the U.S. runs covert operations to destabilize your country. You may even fear that the U.S. is aiming to impose another brutal dictator to run your country, the way they overthrew your government and installed the Shah in 1953. Incidentally, while your country, Iran, has not invaded anyone since its inception as an Islamic Republic, the United States has invaded more countries in its history than any other nation in the history of humankind.
So sure, you may live under a government that is oppressive to dissenters, and your President may say stupid things. But, do you really want the U.S., of all countries, telling you that you can’t be trusted with or allowed to have nuclear weapons?
As I write, Secretary of State Clinton is dismissing international diplomatic efforts to resolve the crisis and declaring that tougher sanctions against Iran are needed. While the United States is the last country that should be telling other countries not to acquire nuclear weapons, we are the first country that should be eliminating our arsenal. Then, we would have some moral authority in the matter. But wait! Wouldn’t that leave us defenseless? Well, how do you think Iran feels?
We need more people to divorce themselves from the narrow self-interests of the tribes they belong to, and think in more objective terms about larger reality. I know it is possible. After all, there are people like billionaire Warren Buffet, who advocates for increased taxes on people such as himself. Peter Kropotkin promoted a system of anarcho-communism that would seem at odds with his station in life as a prince in feudal Russia. White allies of African Americans worked in the civil Rights Movement to abolish a racist system that they may have benefitted from. Biologists have long contemplated – and argued about – the role of self-interest in the individual vs. the interest of the group. Nature is full of examples of individuals working, even sacrificing themselves, for the survival of their species, because in the end, the good of the individual and the good of the group are mutually intertwined.
If we could all step back when international conflicts arise and try to see the big picture, to understand everyone’s point of view regardless of our own personal allegiances, our survival as a species would be enhanced. And, living on a planet that’s not always at war with itself just might be a nicer deal for all of us as individuals.
Click the flower to see how to solve the Palestinian-Israeli conflict: