Peace on the Web

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The Israeli blogger Lisa Goldman writes that "the Israel-Lebanon are-we-calling-it-a-war-yet of 2006 is the first conflict to be blogged from day one. Bloggers from both sides of the border—some of whom were already aware of one another before this tragedy began—have been providing live updates, commenting on one another's blogs and sometimes linking to posts by bloggers on the other side of the border. Will this turn out to be the first time that residents of 'enemy' countries engaged in an ongoing conversation while missiles were falling?"

Among the examples that follow:

The internet has also been offering some surreal experiences, like the ability to have a Beirut-Tel Aviv online IM chat in real time while the missiles are falling. That's what happened to me and this blogger a few nights ago. We chatted while he was sitting on the roof of his apartment building in Beirut, watching missiles from Israeli planes fall on his city and describing it to me. He was carrying on an online conversation with another Israeli at the same time. And he was able to describe his feelings and the atmosphere in a human, personal way that no newspaper article or television news segment could achieve.

Goldman acknowleges that "attitudes will harden as this conflict continues…a lot of Lebanese bloggers have become very angry at Israel, to the point of rejecting personal contact. But this is not the case for all—not by any means."

Draw whatever moral from this that you please. I'll just note that even with a war on, at least some ordinary Israelis and Lebanese have managed to be more civil than our domestic Redshirts and Blueshirts.

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  1. One of the things that allows us, as human beings, with our own spouses, children and loved ones to conduct warfare against other people is to dehumanize them. Instead of corporal Kim or leftenant Trang, we have “gooks.” Rather than acknowledging the personal tragedy and incalculable waste of a bullethole in private Ranoush’s forehead, we hear that “another raghead’s gone down.”

    In instances where the humanity of our opponents has been experienced, it’s typically been more difficult to return to gleefully killing and maiming them.

    I don’t suffer under the illusion that the Internet will end war – the urge to identify an “us” and a “them” seems to be inherent to human nature, with violence an inevitable result – but perhaps its function in maintaining the lines of communication between individuals straddling a front line will help to reduce the urge to conduct unrestricted warfare.

    Even as the bombs and rockets fall, it’s hard to envision participants in that IM session between Beiruit and Tel Aviv wishing that their correspondent would be on the receiving end of the next volley. Instead, they’re likely to join together in cursing the gov’ts involved in bringing this violence down upon them.

    This cannot be an altogether bad thing.

  2. Well said, Clean Hands. Here’s hoping.

  3. I also agree with Clean Hands.

  4. I disagree. I did not read Clean Hands’ post, but someone needs to remain a contrarian.

  5. Make it 3 to 1 for Clean Hands.

  6. Not to be a pedant, but wasn’t the Iraq War blogged from day one? There may have been fewer common links, but there were still Iraqi and American bloggers communicating back and forth. (Including one getting called a Saddam plant)

  7. It’s governments [and would-be governments] that make wars.

    It is in the interests of governments to make war, in order increase their power. [Which helps explain “wars” on poverty, cancer, drugs, etc.]

    As Clean Hands’ points out, dehumanizing an enemy is a basic ploy to foster war.

    I’m all for anything that might subvert that ploy.

  8. I heartily endorse Clean Hands’ event or product.

  9. I read Clean Hands’ post. I want to agree. If someone else will please disagree, I promise to switch my vote.
    Word of warning: it’s lonely on this side.

  10. Bombs bursting? Blogging (still) beats working.

  11. Make it 3 1/2 to 1 1/2.

    While in general CH is right, there are innumerable instances of the most horrific violence being inflicted on people who are literally neighbors. Rwanda springs to mind, as does Serb/Croat ethnic cleansing. Police states are full of people who rat out family and “friends” to horrible ends.

    Sometimes familiarity breeds contempt.

  12. This is all assuming that the e-Lebanese and Israelis don’t get in a big tiff over not being in each other’s “Top 8” on myspace and wind up defriending each other on livejournal. I’ve seen it happen before.

  13. he was able to describe his feelings and the atmosphere in a human, personal way that no newspaper article or television news segment could achieve.

    Just like Edward R. Murrow…65 years ago.

  14. Steven-

    Maybe blog drama will degenerate into fatwas? “Corn syrup is an abomination, and those who eat it must be put to death! And adding a person to your top 8 on MySpace is a sacred covenant, one that cannot be broken! Those who break such sacred covenants are infidels and must be put to death!”

  15. While in general CH is right, there are innumerable instances of the most horrific violence being inflicted on people who are literally neighbors. Rwanda springs to mind, as does Serb/Croat ethnic cleansing.

    I would contend that in each of these cases, the “enemy” was still dehumanized. Radio addresses calling for the extermination of the Tutsis, calling them “cockroaches” were part and parcel of that effort.

    I’m convinced, too, that name-calling in general is a dangerous step in this direction. I’m certainly no fan of political correctness, but I think that in this instance there may be a germ of truth in the idea that we should avoid using slurs.

    Unless our opponents are filthy statists or dumbass marxists. Those people are clearly subhuman. 😉

  16. I disagree with R C Dean. Normal people don’t just start killing people they live next to.

    It’s when they are divided and kept separate that the victims become “unpersons”.

    I have met many Serbs, Croats, & Bosnian refugees. Invariably, their story is the same: “We liked our Serb/Croat/Bosnian neighbors. We didn’t want them killed & they didn’t try to kill us. It started when the militias came to town.”

  17. I guess my larger point is that the true innovation of the Internet – the truly revolutionary effect that it has – is to enable easy communication from one individual to another. Christopher Locke touched on this idea in The Cluetrain Manifesto several years ago, but his focus was on business.

    I’m thinking that it applies even more powerfully in this instance — it’s more difficult to regard as a “cockroach” someone with whom you’ve been swapping recipes and lovelife advice for years.

  18. here, here, CH.

  19. Aresen reminds me of the time I met a couple while dining at an Indian restaurant in London. She was from Belfast, he was from Oxford. She told us how in her hometown Catholics and Protestants could be the best of friends. Only the yahoos were fighting and making it so tough on the rest of them. These yahoos, from what she told me, were poorer folks who tended to live in ghettos where they didn’t meet too many of the “enemy.” We don’t tend to hate groups of people if we know many of them.

    On the other hand, do we really know people that we have chatted with on-line? Do we really feel as if we know them? People posting here do tend to fly off the handle and use insulting language that they would probably refrain from when speaking to someone’s face. A friendly exchange can quickly turn sour. Grudges can be easier to hold if one does not see the grudgee on a regular basis.

    So, while I agree with Clean Hands that communication cannot be an altogether bad thing, I will remain on the contrary side.

  20. I’ve communicated with people with whom I disagree on the internet many times. Sometimes, I wind up feeling better about the whole state of affairs when I see some subtlety to their position that is not obvious in the black/white (red/blue?) of public discussion. I sometime learn to have more faith in motives even if we disagree on process or facts.

    But, I have to confess, sometimes I interact with people on the internet with no predisposition toward them at all, and I just want to hit them afterwards. Does that make me a bad person?

  21. I’m by no means saying that the Internet resolves the problem of grouping and identifying “others” — as our experience here certainly bears out.

    There are folks on these boards towards whom I use terrible invective – and mean it – based on my identification of them (by the content of their ideas and character at least, rather than the color of their skins or other sillier criteria) as “other.”

    (It’s probably just fancy rationalization, but I do so based on the perception that they represent a threat to my freedoms and/or lifestyle.)

  22. I loved the article. Nice reference in the post title, too. I wish I could remember the Hebrew translation.

  23. Seems to me that the most vindictive fighting is between groups that are very much alike.

    Infidels needs to be killed, but heretics REALLY need to be killed.

  24. I’ll just note that even with a war on, at least some ordinary Israelis and Lebanese have managed to be more civil than our domestic Redshirts and Blueshirts.

    There’s often a charge of treason seething below internal disputes. People across borders don’t have to contend with that. …so much.

  25. I think that retaining some view of the humanity of the people you’re killing makes it harder to keep killing them. Of course, merely knowing people better doesn’t mean you won’t hate them more. But this sort of thing is good. Maybe the Internet is about something more than porn and free music. Wow.

  26. It’s also about Fallout 2 walkthroughs.

  27. I disagree with CH. Every so often, in this harsh real world, an enemy attacks, and _needs_ to be killed. What is the advantage in making the killing more difficult by “humanizing” the enemy?

    And how could an IM chat ever “humanize” a robot monster like Mohammed Atta?

  28. Ayn Rand certainly had no truck with this nimby-namby humanizing shit. If somebody attacks you, blast the living daylights out of ’em and anybody dumb enough to get in the way. Talk is cheap.

  29. I like the spirit of CH post, but I think it overplays the importance of the internet in the equation. In every conflict there have been humans in communication across the lines of conflict that have avoided the urge to dehumanize. Whether that communication was via letter, telephone, or face to face, it has existed. What the internet does is let us view this interchange from the outside turning the dyad into an object for public scrutiny.

    In this, the internet may provide an example for others on how to interact with each other, but only on rare occasions. In my experience, it is just as likely to engender an easy sense of dehumanization since you are not face to face with those you interact with. I do believe that I read, right here on H&R, a post wishing death upon Tim C and his family for linking to information that was considered objectionable. Easy to be so crass when it is just ones and zeros.

    In the end, Blogs are just people talking to themselves in isolated rooms, listening to the voices in their head.

  30. Most murder victims are known personally to their victimizers. It may be easier to slaughter the faceless crowd, but it’s also easier to STOP. When it’s personal, then you’ve got a grudge.

    Which would you rather have: a tribe that wants to kill your kind, or a single person who wants to kill you? I’ll take the tribe, thanks.

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