"Keep your friends close - keep your enemies closer" - Michael Corleone
"Violence is the last refuge of the incompetent." Who said that? Thoreau? Emerson? Nope. It was Salvor Hardin, Mayor of Terminus. Who's he? Well, he's not real, except in people's imaginations. He was one of the characters in Isaac Asimov's novel, Foundation.
Like all pithy sayings, it's not true all the time. But overwhelmingly, it is true. It's so true I've memorized it, and when I memorize something I consider important I move something old out of my brain to make space for something new. At this rate, in just a few more years I'll get rid of all the junk and just have good stuff.
What Asimov was pointing out is that people who use their brains, in the long run, beat the custard-heads and poltroons who don't. And those who don't use their brains usually rapidly resort to violence. Usually, they don't win. In the long run, I suspect, never.
To me, Asimov's fictional saying is related to a real saying: "Behold, I send you forth as sheep in the midst of wolves: be ye therefore wise as serpents, and harmless as doves." (Matt. 10:16)
I once saw the above quote translated as "understand the intellect of serpents." I believe that to be more accurate. It intuitively makes more sense. Understand the intellect of the serpents you're dealing with, but be as harmless as a dove. (Anyone who makes it through middle school understands the intellect of serpents.)
There are a lot of ways that saying can be understood. Why is a serpent used? In the story of the Garden of Eden, the serpent is a symbol of hate and envy. He envies Adam and Eve and wants to "bring them down." This is what envy always tries to do. It usually tries to do it subtly, and not surprisingly, the serpent is described as "subtle." The most subtle of the beasts.
How about, "Understand those who are motivated by hate and envy (which very often leads to violence), so be as harmless as a dove"? What do doves do? For one, they fly away from trouble. They're free. They don't slither on the ground like snakes and their kin, politicians. They're not motivated by hate and envy. They've always been symbols of peace (they're also symbols of the Holy Spirit). I suspect they're a lot smarter than snakes. They're not totally non-violent, because they do occasionally peck in self-defense. I've even seen birds dive-bomb cats.
Is there a better modern translation of this saying? How about, "Understand the intellect of Yosemite Sam, or the Tasmanian Devil, or Daffy Duck, or Elmer Fudd, or Marvin the Martian, and be as harmless as Bugs Bunny"?
In other words, understand the mind of the psychotic, the psychopathic, the nutcase empire builders, the war-mongering, the cowardly...and outsmart them. And certainly don't be like them! Be as harmless and peaceful as a dove. Outsmart and out-trick your opponents, just like ol' Bugs. For that matter, Jesus outsmarted his opponents ("And from then on no one dared ask him any more questions.").
The saying can be seen as the difference between coercion, and persuasion. Serpents are violent. And they're sneaky, too. I once saw a snake grab a toad from behind. The toad never saw what was coming. And I've lost track of the times I've been on top of snakes before I saw them. I've never had that problem with a bird. It's a good thing snakes don't bother me.
On the one hand we have the violent, the sneaky, the backstabbing, the hateful and envious (and aren't all those traits related?). And on the other hand we have the peaceful and the free. The philosophy of the Serpent as opposed to that of the Dove...which appears to be pretty much the same as the difference between the armchair-general Chickenhawks and the Doves ("therefore understand the intellect of chickenhawks and be as harmless as doves"?).
How does all of this relate to the undeclared wars the U.S. is in, the one planned and started by the neocons? If we look at the neocons as serpents, then they must be motivated by hate and envy. They have to be sneaky, backstabbing and untrustworthy. They would be violent and cowardly. They would be liars. Dang! Jesus was right! There are also some other sayings of Jesus that can be applied to the neocons. Here's some: "Be careful of false prophets. They come to you looking gentle like sheep, but they are really dangerous like wolves. You will know these people by what they do.
Grapes don't come from thornbushes. And figs don't come from thorny weeds. In the same way, every good tree produces good fruit, but a bad tree produces bad fruit. A good tree cannot produce bad fruit, and a bad tree cannot produce good fruit. Every tree that does not produce good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. In the same way, you will know these false prophets by what they do."
Does the saying about serpents and doves give us any clues as to how to deal with the wars? It sure does. In order to understand how, we have to look at the archetype of the Trickster. The aforementioned Bugs is a Trickster. He outsmarts his opponents.
Everyone has a bit of Trickster in him; that's why it is the oldest archetype known. If it is true that the late Osama bin Laden was behind the attacks on the WTC and the Pentagon, why did he do it?
He did it because he is (was) a little bit of a Trickster. He wanted the U.S. to overreact, which it did. He wanted to start a war between the US and Islam, which is what appears to be happening.
Let's look at some basic Trickster tactics from Sun Tzu's The Art of War. Do you think bin Laden read the book? I do. Did Dubya or the Kenyan read it? I doubt it.
How about, "All warfare is based on deception." Then we have, "Hold out baits to lure the enemy," like flying airplanes into skyscrapers. Another is to make him fight on many fronts, like Afghanistan and Iraq. Still another is to make it a long war to impoverish the enemy's citizens.
Another one is to win battles without firing a shot ("those skilled in war subdue the enemy's army without battle"). An example? The US getting rid of the apostate Saddam Hussein. I'll bet his fundamentalist opponents are cheering the fact the US did their work for them ("Ha ha! Dumb American government! Big and stupid!"). How about the current administration believing it can conquer the Middle East and remold it? Do they really believe millions of people can be shoveled around like wet concrete? Sun Tzu had a comment about that, too – "if he is arrogant, try to encourage his egotism."
What should the U.S. have done? Simple. Outsmarted our opponents by not falling into their trap. Since it takes two to have a fight, you can say we should have "turned the other cheek."
Imagine that the administration had actually used its brains. What if we have brought home all our soldiers from the 750 military bases in 145 countries, cut 90% of our taxes, retired the national debt, and deregulated the economy? What we if had gone 100% to the free market? What if we started drilling for oil in the mudflats in Alaska and the Gulf of Mexico? What if we started building safe nuclear-power plants?
There would have been an explosion of wealth in the U.S. Our opponents in the Middle East would sink further and further in the poverty that has characterized the region for a thousand years. Without oil, the whole area is blighted. What if we kicked out the uninvited and dangerous immigrants in this country, stopped interfering politically and militarily in the affairs of other countries, and instead told them, "We will trade peaceably with you, and that's all"?
Now that's what I call outsmarting our opponents! Instead, the administration has fallen into our enemies' trap, and we are in what appears to be a long war that's going to solve nothing.
Understanding the intellect of serpents...and being as harmless as doves. Truer words have rarely been spoken.