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The Reasons for America's Aversion to Diplomacy

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George W. Bush said recently on NBC’s Today Show that the faltering economy could not be blamed on the $10 billion-a-month Iraq War. “I think actually the spending in the war might help with jobs,” he said, “because we’re buying equipment and people are working.”


A rational view, by way of contrast with Bush’s, is found in Richard Rhodes’ book, Arsenals of Folly: The Making of the Nuclear Arms Race (Knopf, 2007). In it he writes that the arms race and the corresponding militarization of the American economy “gave us ramshackle cities, broken bridges, failing schools, entrenched poverty, impeded life expectancy, and a menacing and secretive national-security state that held the entire human world hostage.”


In Rhodes’ view, U.S. militarization since the end of World War II has been our great self-defeat. He writes that, “What we bought for a waste of treasure unprecedented in human history was not peace nor even safety but a pervasive decline in the capacity and clemency of American life.”


How green our pastures would be if only our leaders had been masters of diplomacy instead of solicitors of war! Why aren’t we better diplomats? Why weren’t we powerful enough in our own humanity to create peace with the Soviet Union? Instead, we produced a nuclear production complex that, according to Rhodes, had already by the mid-1950s “exceeded in capital investment the combined capitalization of Bethlehem Steel, U.S. Steel, Alcoa, DuPont, Goodyear, and General Motors.”


The problem, of course, has to do with human evolvement, meaning in this instance the quality of our consciousness. A lack of self-knowledge has been at play in our tragic failure to prevent the Cold War and to dismantle our militarized economy after the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991. When we project our unconscious dark side on to others, we create enemies or we react unwisely to potential or real enemies. Through projection, we become rigid and righteous. Consequently, our foreign policy becomes emotionally reactive, and we handicap ourselves from subduing, pacifying, or befriending those who oppose us.


We all have a dark side. It surfaces in a thousand ways, ranging from emotional problems such as fearfulness, apathy, cynicism, distrust, hatred, shame, depression, and guilt to behavioral problems involving addictions, compulsions, and relationships and career failures. The more we harbor irrational fears, for instance, the more we feel threatened by the alleged malevolence of the neighbor next door or the stranger from the Middle East. Many emotionally immature people are reluctant to resolve their conflicts with others because they define themselves in large part through their enemies. “Peace begins with me,” as the old saying goes.


Two other aspects of our distrust of diplomacy are perhaps less well understood. The first of these concerns the need for control and domination. In marriages and other partnerships, controlling partners feel they will lose face, be humiliated, or somehow be defeated if they don’t get their way. Even compromise and negotiation are experienced as loss or capitulation. Many individuals have chosen, consciously or not, the self-defeating option of failing in their relationships rather than giving in or “surrendering” to their partners. Getting one’s way is experienced as having superiority, dominance, and value.


Politicians who crave control and domination are people who emotionally interpret compromise as passivity. Like macho males, they use external props of power to cover up their inner weakness. They are desperate for power or the illusion of it. Otherwise, they feel like empty shells. Under such leadership, America becomes an empty shell of itself. Like an abusive spouse, a political leader who rejects diplomacy out of hand can be quite eager to use force and violence to enforce his righteousness. Sincere diplomacy requires integrity, trustworthiness, and courage—qualities that are not readily available to a weak person.


The second aspect, which involves the meaning of true power, is related to the first. Martin Luther King embodied the quality of true power. Such power is easily unrecognized or discredited by those who cannot relate to it within themselves. Having true power means having integrity and being emotionally strong and at peace with oneself. When diplomats have this power, they are instinctively or intuitively trusted by people negotiating with them. Their power brings out the best in those with whom they deal.


This concept is explained in Dr. David R. Hawkins’ book, Power vs. Force: The Hidden Determinants of Human Behavior (Hay House, 2002). Hawkins, a psychiatrist, says true power “is always associated with that which supports the significance of life itself. It appeals to that part of human nature that we call noble—in contrast to force, which appeals to that which we call crass. . . . Force must always be justified, whereas power requires no justification. Force is associated with the partial, power with the whole.”


Force always creates counterforce or polarization, Hawkins writes. Its costs are always high because it produces conflict and the need for constant defense. In contrast, true power emanates from consciousness itself and manifests, like principles such as honor or integrity, out of the invisible.


With this power, we’re able to produce bonds of friendship and trust in our personal relationships. With this quality, our leaders practice soft power on the world stage that’s more effective at establishing enduring peace than hard power.

 The expression of this quality is an evolutionary leap above the mentality of those Americans who, aligned with force rather than power, broke almost all their treaties with Native Americans. If we can’t be trusted to uphold our treaties, we won’t trust the other side. This power of awakened consciousness is available to all sincere people. We acquire it, for starters, by throwing out borrowed ideas about who we are and finding our own adventure and our own selves in the merger of individual pursuit and common cause.
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Peter Michaelson is an author, blogger, and psychotherapist in Plymouth, MI. He believes that better understanding of depth psychology reduces the fear, passivity, and denial of citizens, making us more capable of maintaining and growing our (more...)
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