My half-wife likes to point out that I’m driven by intense passions. I get hooked on something and I think about it all the time.
I can hang with one powerful idea for a few years. I was actually passionate about pacifism for at least a year as a teenager.
For about two years in my early twenties I saw every single dance performance that played in San Francisco. I didn’t have any money, but everyone knew me as the guy who would fold programs or help move equipment before the show, or help clean up after the show. So I saw all the shows for free.
For a few years I was so passionate about tea, I would bring my tea equipment with me even when I went rock climbing.
I’m always passionate about martial arts.
I’m often passionate about a thinker or a book. I’ve been known to talk about an idea over and over for years. On reflection it can seem kind of creepy, but that kind of passion changes a person.
Anyway, about 10 years ago I read Albion's Seed, Four British Folkways in America, and I became obsessed with how powerful the theory was at explaining American behavior.
In the book David Hackett Fischer describes the first four American settler groups, Southern Cavaliers, Puritans, Quakers, and Backcountry. For each group he makes a long list of what he calls folkways. For instance he mentions eating & drinking habits, reactions to strangers, housing, medicine, education, clothing, liberty, child rearing, marriage, death, and many other folkways. When you read the book you start to realize that the views of each of these ‘cultures’ have been static for four hundred years! In America today, an individual is free to pick and choose, or change, their views on any subject. So individuals are often composites, for instance one may hold a Quaker view of guns (no one should have them), but a Backcountry view of Whisky (it should be served with breakfast).
Of course there is such a thing as a new idea, but most of the time when an American opens her mouth, she is going to present an idea from one of the Four British Folkways.
Since I’m writing this in response to Sgt Rory Miller’s piece, I’ll just recite the Four Folkways as they pertain to violence.
Southern Cavaliers: Respect and deference should guide all behavior. Violence is the prerogative of some people and not others. Everyone must know their place. Servants learn their place by being beaten or put to work on a chain-gang. Others are destine to lead troops. Propriety dictates that each class of people rise to their specific responsibilities with in a given hierarchy. If an equal dares to insult my integrity or the integrity of a lady under my care, we will fight a duel-- a fair fight with ‘seconds’ to judge. The weaker sex should never fight. The purpose of violence is to expand and hold power. A man’s home is his castle. And as Thomas Jefferson put it, “There is no greater form of exercise than hunting.”
Puritan: Do the crime, serve the time. The Puritans invented police. The early Colonies elected a constable whose job it was to search or inspect everyone’s home at some regular interval like every six months. We must have uniform standards and respect for elders. Weapons are for the collective defense and to protect Liberty. Liberty here means a proud community standard. So constables have a stick to beat non-conformists and other disturbers of “the peace.” The more grievous the offence, the more severe the punishment. (In the early days Quakers were burned at the stake.)
Quakers: Everyone has pure light in their hearts. What do we need guns for?
Backcountry: Who you looking at? Yep, I’m a redneck, but if you call me that to my face you’d better be prepared to die (or be sleeping with my sister). Weapons are an integral part of my circulatory system.
Warning Politics Ahead. Skip the last paragraph if you are easily impassioned.
Now as powerful as this theory is, and it is one heck of a powerful theory, it doesn’t explain everything. There are ideas outside the 4 boxes. So as I was doing the dishes this evening I was trying to think of an idea about violence which is outside of the Four Folkways. I didn’t come up with anything, but it did occur to me that all Four Folkways approve of Missionaries. Which reminded me of Michael B. Oren’s book Power, Faith, and Fantasy: America in the Middle East: 1776 to the Present. In it he explains that for the last 150 years, every time Americans go to the Middle East we build a school or a hospital.
Think about that. That is something all Americans seem to agree is a good idea, a nice thing to do. In the Middle East, Americans have started nearly every University, and we have built Hospitals in every region.
But think about it again. What kind of message does that send to the people of the Middle East? They are getting the message that we must believe they are ignorant and incapable of caring for themselves. How humiliating.
(Israelis offer free organ transplants for Palestinian children. They have found a way to stop suicide bombings using only collaborators, check points, and fences. Humiliating.)
AlQeda is crystal clear: Stop humiliating us! Show us some dignity and just start Killing Us! Please! Death!
How do we respond? Ideally we will capture them, take them water boarding, and build more schools and hospitals.
The author teaching at the Arab Sports Center in East Jerusalem.