Saturday, April 21, 2007

What was I thinking?

I spend a lot of time trying to figure out what other people think about things and understand why they think the way they do. The first bit, trying to put myself in someone else’s shoes and see the world the world the way they do, is really hard. The second bit, understanding why, is also pretty tricky. I haven’t completely discounted the ‘Insect Men from Minraud putting drugs in the water’ theory to explain some of the opinions I read in the papers, but I suspect a more prosaic explanation.

The last week or so I’ve been trying to do something which ought to be easy, but it is also proving to be really hard. I am trying to put myself in my own shoes. These are the shoes I had when I was a supporter of the armed struggle for Palestinian self determination. I can remember considering myself a supporter of the PLO. I can remember sitting myopically waiting for my glasses in the optometrists at Punchbowl at the beginning of the second intifada when a young man came in selling casettes to support the struggle in Palestine, and feeling guilty for not buying one. I can remember striding along feeling the same righteous indignation I still feel about lots of other stuff. But I cannot reconstruct the thoughts of my younger self that should accompany these memories. What was I thinking?

The answer came to me the other day, mediated like so many profound insights through country music:

Oh, I knew there'd be hell to pay. But that crossed my mind a little too late.
'Cause I was thinkin' 'bout a little white tank top, Sittin' right there in the middle by me.
An' I was thinkin' 'bout a long kiss, Man, just gotta get goin', where the night might lead.
I know what I was feelin'
But what was I thinkin'?
What was I thinkin'?

I was thinking of the newspaper images of Sabra and Chatila refugee camps from the invasion of Lebanon; I was thinking of the Time magazine article mentioning how Abu Wossname’s gardener was killed by Mossad in Tunisia; I was thinking of the description in the Tablet of the 14- year old boy shot in his own living room with a remote control in his hand at the time of the first intifada.; I was thinking of the pictures of Mohammed Ali Dura’s father trying to shield his son. I know what I was feeling. But what was I thinking? What was I thinking?

I'm pretty sure I cannot put myself in my old shoes because I had no shoes. I was not thinking, I was just riding along on a wave of emotion that I had caught back in 1982. When I finally stopped to think, it was obvious that the Palestinian leaders were not interested in finding a peaceful solution to the problems of their people, and that they had done their darnedest to brainwash them into being willing accomplices in their own degradation. It was obvious that Israel, despite having done some bad things, was really trying for a reasonable solution and had already made big sacrifices for it. It was obvious that the vast majority of the Palestinian civilian casualties I read about were more or less by accident, while the vast majority of the Israeli civilian casualties I read about were more or less on purpose. I cannot remember exactly how long this process of changing my opinion took, but I think it was only a couple of weeks. Looking back at it, I am pretty sure it was not exchanging one informed opinion for another, but forming an informed opinion for the first time.


Marco said...

As you know, I am not one to dwell too much on whose side I am on. Even more so when I put myself in "their" shoes. I find that whether it be a palestinian leader, Israeli leader, warlord, etc., my options are pretty limited and the best strategies are more or less the ones they are taking. Of course I believe that there is a Nash equilibrium and that pretty much extends from that.

Dr. Clam said...

My main point is not to do with 'which side' I am on, but with the process of getting there... for instance, do you remember how you first decided that there was a Nash equilibrium? How did you think about these situations *before* you made that decision?

Marco said...

Yes, point taken. Before it got sorted out in my head a couple of years ago, I just believed the leaders were acting somewhat irrationally. Especially when there was powerful mediating influences and a spirit of compromise in the air. I used to think "If only leader X did this at this point" and then the problem would end up getting resolved. Once I realised that game theory described the situation well, it was a case of finding the simplest model that realised the current result. That pretty simple reference game gives pointers to what the "endgame" entails, and it is a long way off yet, and this nuclear Iran thing is definitely part of it. There is no going back to my (our) previous thinking, is there?

Anonymous said...

Yes, there is no going back with this kind of 'conversion' experience, because we have moved from unexamined explanations that made no sense to explanations that do make sense: we could be persuaded onwards to explanations that make even more sense, like Einsteinian physics encapsulates Newtonian physics, but we will never (metaphorically) relinquish F = ma...


Anonymous said...

"I spend a lot of time trying to figure out what other people think about things and understand why they think the way they do. The first bit, trying to put myself in someone else’s shoes and see the world the world the way they do, is really hard."

It may be hard and sometimes perhaps impossible, but understanding the other side is really the crux of the matter.

Concerning the comment on Nash equilibria in politics: see my blog on this. I believe to look for Nash equilibria in situations which really are fairly chaotic, is futile.

Further comments will follow as comments in my latest post on Iran, possibly after my return from Brisbane in about two or three weeks.