by William H. Benson
February 27, 2003
In Shakespeare’s King Richard II Henry of Bolingbroke tried out various labels to discribe his grab for England’s crown. Was it a deposition, in that he was removing Richard from the throne? Or was Richard resigning by abdication? Or was it a peaceful transfer of power from Richard to Henry? Or was it a coronation of a new king? Henry wanted the proper label to justify his actions, for he was kicking out Richard and placing himself on the throne.
Each science and each discipline has its own labels, terms fixed to a thing or a behavior or an event or an action. Learn the terms, and you know the science. Labelling is defined as trapping a living thing in the catch of a human phrase, and it is a powerful act. For example, Adam was told to name the animals, and by that act he held dominion over them. And the answer–“I am that I am”–to Moses’s question meant that He would not be trapped in the clutch of a human term.
Right now George Bush is searching for the label whereby he might describe his end game with Iraq’s Saddam Hussein. Coming from the Oval Office are sentences such as, “Certainly we would welcome an administrative change in Iraq.” But how will that change come about–through a deposition, a resignation, a capture, an internal revolution, or a gentle transfer? The proper term is out there and remains to be played out.
We can easily fix labels upon the Middle East–rich in oil but masses of poor people, a weak military, biased toward the masculine, a single focus upon religion, ruled by elites, and closed to new information. And just as easily we can attach labels to the U.S.–rich, democratic, powerful, inclusive, a splintered religious focus, and open to new information.
So by the labels we catch the apparant differences between the East and the West, and immediately we then judge which of the labels are good and which are bad. But looking below those labels we can see what they truly mean to people, in terms of feelings and the human costs and the disrupted potentials.
Women in America have fought their way into the office, the workplace, the schools, and the universities. Ralph Peters, a military intellectual, said, “Rosie the Riveter is in the boardroom, she’s on campus, she’s flying jets off carriers. Look at our tremendous openness to the utilitization of human capital, the opening of our society to women, to minorities, to old people.”
And yet across the Pan-Islamic world, Ralph Peters argued, we can witness a neurosis, a primeval terror about female sexuality. Only Sigmund Freud could perhaps decipher what there is in a culture or a religion or a people that would subject their women, half their population, to wearing black robes and veils and hiding terror-stricken in the shadows, as if less than human.
Because a Martin Luther-style Protestant Reformation never happened in the Middle East, Islamic followers have only one path to final truth, and it has calcified. But because of the Reformation, the West could then cultivate various forms of religions, different paths to the same ending, and even then embrace a secular religion, that of science.
Being open to new information allows people to question their myths about themselves and their governments. Carl Sagan entitled one of his essays, “Real patriots ask questions”, because ultimately in a democratic government it is the people who rule, not their elected representatives. About closed societies, Ralph Peters said, “Listen to our enemies’ rhetoric. They’re in love with their myths of themselves, both old and new, and they’re myths of self-justification.”