Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Taming Horses and Adversaries

A few days ago I happened onto an old Western, The Big Country, in which Gregory Peck tames an unridable horse.  In this fifties film, he achieves the horse’s submission by getting up again and again to ride him after being thrown, having the horse’s bridle held by another person while he mounts, or turning the horses head to one side with the reins.

I couldn't help but compare this approach to one I’d seen on a recent Nature feature, about a program for men serving jail time, in which they learned to tame horses using a completely different method than the one in Peck’s film:  they worked over days and weeks to gain the horse’s confidence and allow him to become familiar with his future master.

Undoubtedly, these two filmed narratives reflect the fact that since the fifties, psychology has become a major element of our culture.  Sadly, this progress has not extended to the way we deal with our political adversaries.  Barack Obama would have us apply the method documented in the Nature program, while John McCain touts the cowboy method.

Sadly, again, we witness the predominance of the cowboy approach to adversaries in the behavior of too many soldiers, as documented in several films about the Iraq war.  I don’t remember the title of the one I saw a few months ago on television, shot by a soldier with a camera, that documented language and behavior both in the barracks and on duty.  The vulgarity of the language was only the icing on the cake, so to speak: the soldiers were filmed breaking down doors, raping and killing civilians whom they had decided deserved to be chastised.

Aggressive behavior could be brushed off as untypically American, yet half of us appear to respond enthusiastically to the candidate whose rhetoric is all about winning and the honor thereof.  In case anyone still thinks McCain’s use of the word honor corresponds to the classical definition of the term, they should remember that, in true cowboy fashion, it includes ‘Bomb, bomb Iran.’

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