The U.S.'s Symmetrical Escalations


At age 72, I get tired of saying "When I was younger, I used to . . .", but the truth is that, during a man's lifetime, his interests will change, or they will become unavailable to him. At any rate, I used to play chess. My father taught me how, and said it was the closest thing to a war. It succeeded on the basis of strategy, rather than on brute force.

Father taught me how to move the chess pieces and the important manoeuvres I could employ to prolong a losing game. One such defensive trick involved moving the King to the corner of the chessboard behind two or three pawns and moving the Castle beside the King to protect him. Once a player "castled" his King, it became more difficult to capture him, almost assuring that the game would end in a stalemate.

I thought about Chess and castling a King when I read Manfred Lütz's interesting article in Die Welt, "Die schleichende Ersetzung von Religion durch Moral". In English, it means "The Substitution of Moralisms for Religious Belief". The article describes how the Medieval Church's use of images taught illiterate Europeans about the Gospel of Jesus Christ and the doctrines of the Church. Once the Church reformers got into the picture, church-images fell out of favor. The reformers wanted literate believers.

Lütz worries that social media has brought images back into vogue, at the expense of informed opinions. The images have pushed America beyond simple disunity. They have retreated hardened, defensive positions that he describes as "bastionierte Meinungs-gruppen", fortified constituencies, like chess-Kings who have retreated into the castle, causing a social stalemate that neither side wins--only unwelcomed third parties.
America has moved beyond disunity, Lütz says, and toward "symmetrical escalations". In other words, America's mutually hostile escalations lack a reasonable dialogue that can breach the hostility, only images that speak in unthinking, hostile platitudes. The populations of America have enveloped themselves in "Meinungsinseln" or islands of opinion. For most Facebook members, none of this is new. There, you find the enmity raw and unrelenting.

Lütz uses the German language so skillfully here, I cannot do better than to translate his most salient comment:

  1. The public pillory that social media creates in our society scares people who lack affiliation or a support system. The individual's angst must yield to communal anger. The content of that anger becomes a secondary concern.
  2. Attacks against right-wing individuals and groups drives together a curious coalition of free-market radicals, nationalists, conspiracy-theorists, Corona-deniers, right-wing populists, and racists.
  3. During the French Revolution of 1789, its leader Roberspierre stated that murderous terror was the natural consequence of the moral crusade.

Again, America's problem is no longer its disunity. It has moved beyond mere disunity. The "symmetrical escalations" represent a more serious state. The only thing that will defuse America's war-like environment is a division of the country. The nation's leaders will have to undertake that themselves--top-down--in order to assure the public that it has a coordinated plan of action.