Sticks, Stones, Bombs and Bullets

This note requires a setting of the scene. Once upon a time, there was an Internet flame war. Upon one side was CAR-PG, a group of people whose purpose was discussing and improving role playing games. Upon the other side was Drac, a Christian, a former role player, and one who had repented of his past sin of role playing.

There are Christians who believe that because some role playing games use demons as part of their plots and conflicts, it follows that all role playing games are a form of demon worship. All role playing games are therefore evil. All role players are sinners, who must repent. CAR-PG, as one might well imagine, did not share this point of view. The exchange between CAR-PG and Drac got to be violent, intense, and pointless, even by Internet news group standards.

Dale Meier, a far more tolerant sort of Christian, published a rather thoughtful letter on how not all Christians are intolerant and full of hate, and how worried he was that conflict and intolerance would contaminate the Internet and the Web.

This was a while ago. In Bosnia, the war was still hot. The forces of the civilized west were retreating from Somalia, where the local populace did not seem to want to be saved. In Oklahoma City, the ruins of the federal building were still being explored for bodies. In Boston, a lone gunman had just run through two abortion clinics shooting whomever he could. The Berlin Wall was newly down. People were confused at the nature of the new world we lived in, with the anchor conflict of Communism against Democracy seemingly over.

I wrote the following response to Dale's note. The wars of words and explosives were not over then, and are not over now. They have only entered new phases.

Subject :  Sticks, Stones, Bombs and Bullets
From :  Robert Butler
To :  Dale Meier
CC:  Peter Maranci

I read your piece on Drac and CAR-PG in the latest Interregnum. It echoes a far to broad trend I've been noting. Pardon if I drift off subjects and far afield.

In The Wild Hunt, one of my last pieces described the difference between agricultural and industrial perspectives on truth and authority. The agricultural civilizations were in general ruled by dictator/kings. They ruled for life. There was no procedure for removing them. Their powers were absolute, often derived from the gods. Their power included censoring ideas they did not like, or terminating individuals they opposed. War was cost effective. Expansion by force of one's culture or religion was expected. Intolerance of different ethnic groups was the norm.

The opposite - on the rare occasion when it is at it's best - is the industrial civilization. The executive has limited terms in office, and can be removed for abusing power. The chief executive's power is limited by the purse being held by the independent legislative, and the laws being interpreted by an independent judicial. Ideas are supposed to be freely expressed. Individual can be tried for criminal acts, but not political. Aggressor nations generally get stomped by defensive alliances. Forcing one's culture or religion on an unwilling other is considered impolite. While prejudice against ethnic, religious, or gender groups is common, it is not backed by law nor something to be proud of.

In recent years, the last bastion of agricultural civilization capable of threatening the industrial alliance in open war failed economically. I'm referring to the Soviet Union. World Peace has not broken out. If anything, every little hatred hidden under the stress of the cold war has been given an excuse to break free.

I see the key to many of these conflicts as echoes of the old agricultural mind set. If I'm right, and you are wrong, it is permissible and even morally required under agricultural ethics to force my way of life on you. The opposing industrial theory is that one should learn to live in peace with people who disagree with you. People should have a right to seek their own life style, as long as they are not harming others.

Drac vs. CAR-PG is not as extreme an example of Christian Fundamentalist intolerance as the Waco cult, OKC, or the abortion doctor murders. Drac also has the electronic media factor. It is altogether too easy to be angry when communicating through a media which doesn't convey emotions well.

While I believe in freedom of assembly and speech, it has become clear of late that if there is a major issue, there will gather people who stand firmly on each side of that issue. A radical fraction of each group starts buying guns and preaching violence. Radical factions of the radical fractions then go beyond talk.

While I greatly respect the teachings of Christ and the ability of the computer networks to allow communications of sorts, Drac / Pierre is a symptom of something much larger and *really* dangerous. Role playing games are bad. Abortions are bad. Gun control advocates are bad. The government is bad. God is on my side. Those who oppose me must be of the devil. Any degree of coercion or force necessary to do God's will is proper.

Pouring oil on troubled waters when a flame war breaks out in an APA or news group may be all we can do. It isn't enough.

And yes, I know it is possible to love God without falling into the above trap. In fact - at least to me - it takes a really perverted reading of Christ's message to justify killing or even hating one's neighbor. I can also see from the Angel's Brigade fiction piece, that the idea of abuse of religious/temporal authority is not a new idea to you. I think you were asking exactly the right question in your 'Sticks and Stones' piece. You may not have been asking it on a large enough scale. And as for a grand scale answering of the question you raised, that's beyond me.