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Created: February 26, 2002
Latest Update: February 26, 2002

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The Adversarial Compulsion

Entry by jeanne

Copyright: Jeanne Curran and Susan R. Takata and Individaul Authors, February 2002.
"Fair use" encouraged.

This essay is based on Chapter 5 of Gordon Fellman's Rambo and the Dalai Lama, starting at p.37. State University of New York Press. 1998. ISBN: 0-7914-3784-1.

Gordon Fellman opens Chapter 5 with a spellbinding story:

"In the summer of 1988, sociologist Jame William Gibson enrolled in the American Pistol Institute of Pauldin, Arizona, nicknamed 'Gunsite Ranch.' Half the forty-some students in the class were from military and federal agencies and police forces; the others were civilians like him. 1

"Gibson writes that instructor Cooper, in the manner of a military drill sergeant or athletic coach, urges the students to summon the psychological energy necessary to fight to the death. 'Anger and fear are similar,' Cooper emphasized. 'You need to flip a switch to transform your fear into rage. You should be angry at your adversary. By attacking you he deserves no consideration." 2

Fellman describes the way in which Gibson found himself entering "a paranoid world of attack, fear, rage, and counterattack." 3 Gibson said of his own reactions: "Then it hit me---the week of intense training had created conditioned reflexes and an adrenaline rush strong enough to break through all inhibitiions that normally keep aggression under control." 4

Fellman judges, rightly I think, that we all feel that high from violence, from the power the gun affords, from righting the wrongs we suffer. My first response to the attack on the world trade center was wanting an UZI, of wanting to fight, and all I wanted was to know where bin Laden was. Women, too, feel the power, want the power and the satisfaction of "making things right." Except that the violence has never made things right. It's like the difference between a one-sided argument and a two-sided argument 5 The violence makes us feel powerful and strong and heroic for a while, but in the long run, it's like a nuclear explosion. It just keeps going on and on and on. And lots of innocent people suffer.

We have learned that we need to control the urge to act in violence, out of pure emotion, to find long term and workable solutions to most of the complexities of today's problems. Look at the whole picture of the recent war on terrorism. Look at the crazy mixed up involvement of Afghanistan, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, and Iran, never mind India. It's gonna take more than John Wayne's six-shooter to straighten that mess out. As I read through all of that last semester and in the last month or so, I even became more understanding of US Foreign Policy, even the parts I disagree with. It's a little like Dick Platkin's question on PSN: "So the Taliban are bad. Does that make the Northern Alliance good?"

Federal Courts will not admit evidence tainted by an unlawful search, in violation of the Fourth Amendment. It took them a while to decide that, and there are still lots of conservative arguments against the Exclusionary Rule, but the courts ultimately decided that they couldn't give a fair judgment if the evidence was tainted. They did not want "dirty hands" themselves. Well, I give up on trying to figure out who the good guys and the bad guys are in a land I do not know, a culture very different from mine, and the structural context of twenty years of war after which I'm not sure that anyone is left with clean hands, including us.

We need to step back and regain control of the adrenalin surge, and start listening to the Other. That doesn't mean that we'll agree with the Other, but at least we might begin to find ways of deconditioning ourselves to constant violence. Saudi Arabia is speaking of peace to Palestine and Israel.

End Notes

  1. Fellman takes this story from J. William Gibson, Warrior Dreams: Violence and Manhood in Post-Vietnam America. New York: Hill and Wang. 1994.
  2. Ibid. at p. 183.
  3. Fellman, Rambo and the Dalai Lama. Albany. SUNY. 1998. At p. 38.
  4. Gibson, Warrior Dreams, at p. 189.