The key assumption behind this most-asked question states that any final solution is irrelevant and that any one of a series of solutions will suffice. In other words, the issue/problem is either too difficult to solve and would make little difference in any case. So, why bother? Better to leave it alone and let “nature take its course.”
What is Difference?
This kind of logic supports the long-held theory, “if it’s not broken, don’t fix it.” Or, “let well-enough alone.”
Should such an interpretation of life guide humanity? What would be the result? Would it lead to a general apathy that might stop any progress before it begins? Or, would it divide the serious from the quaint and select only those areas that need repair or improvement?
There is no definitive answer to those questions, but the philosophic quandary behind the question has plagued mankind from the beginning, with no end in sight. For one, it may just be the problem separating conservative from progressive, of those who are prepared to allow “natural” conditions to prevail from those who demand intervention in shaping “destiny.” Beneath even that are those who believe in the notion of “destiny” in the first place versus those who deny it as a conceptual design.
In the animal kingdom, destiny rules. It’s called “biology.” There is nothing that will permit a fish to fly or a bird to swim. Lions eat zebras, elephants are big, giraffes have long necks, and cats kill mice.
In the human kingdom, destiny, “biology,” must compete with psychology. Humans have “intellects,” which permit “reason.” Thus, the human brain has both an “emotional” and an “intellectual” content, that vie against one another for result. This combination eliminates the absolute predictability for animals and makes the “human condition” dependent upon which of the two parts of the brain prevail.
There is room enough for both. Animals act on “instinct;” they cannot “reason.” Humans do both, which introduces the notion “rational” into their behavior. It also introduces “irrational,” both terms derived from intellect and both observable but difficult to define.
If strict and consistent, “logic” evades definition; observation has to do. This equates with another old truism, “you will know it when you see it.” Terrorism, for example, has multiple definitions and applications but has become the reason d’ état for modern world politics. Yet, what distinguishes this “Age of Terror” from earlier ages, and, if it cannot be defined, why is it so pervasive?
Does a civilian beheaded by ISIS know the difference between himself and a soldier killed at Iwo Jima?
What is Sameness?
Getting back to the original question, does a definition make any difference? Even if we have a clear distinction between terror and war, what consequence (“difference”) does it make? If the consequences are deaths and weapons, there is little fundamental difference. If the consequences are fundamental, it makes all the difference in the world. Which means it changes the world.
This perspective only begs the question: Has the world changed since human intervention, about 6,000 years ago? Not technology, not medicine, humanity.
What’s the real answer, and does it “make a difference”?
How is that judged? There is a “superficial” explanation and a “fundamental” one.
Superficial: The American Civil War started in 1861 within the United States and was confined to North America. The US entered World War II in 1941 and fought all over the world. Judgment: These are two separate events without any relationship.
Fundamental: Both wars were started when one side bombed an island of the other. Judgment: They are the same with marginal and thus irrelevant circumstances and conduct.
These examples are isolated and arbitrary and could easily be expanded to include the whole of human history. Hitler invaded Poland in 1939; the U.S. invaded Mexico in 1847. France invaded Russia in 1812. Germany did the same in 1941. Is a list necessary?
If one studies history to learn the differences, why bother? To learn patterns has meaning.
What’s the difference? In the long run, philosophically and for posterity, very little. For the moment and for expediency, war or peace.
Today: Same, Different?
For the past three years, this country has been paralyzed by notions that the American President and foreign governments behaved “injudiciously” with each other, so badly that the President must leave. Not only must he go, but this must occur without an election, thus “interfering” with normal discourse (impeachment).
Thus we have “collusion” between two governments and “abuse” of authority. If these are new and unique, intervention is necessary. If they are “SOP” or characteristic, lesser action is best (or none at all).
There is no possibility that the actions taken by both sides in the U.S. political system since 2016 are new or unique. “There is nothing new under the sun,” says Ecclesiastes.
Certainly, the overwhelming and most lasting “images” of the politics since then are not the nuances and misjudgments of the players (from both sides) but the sheer persistence, tenacity, and moral outrage exhibited from day one. One can easily forget or dismiss the daily and endless legalisms and argumentation that goes on ad infinitum. But the memories of the name-calling, the media, and theatric reactions, the use of descriptions as “hysteria” and “derangement” will last a lifetime.
This is “human behavior” from the “emotional” brain. It is also as old as history and has been described as “fundamental” by those who have experienced it.
In his classic 1796 Farewell Address, George Washington, who had suffered through this himself, labeled it “…the channels of party passion… this spirit, unfortunately, is inseparable from our nature, having its root in the strongest passions of the human mind.”
Washington further noted that this side of the brain creates “ill-founded jealousies and false alarms” and “has perpetrated the most horrid enormities.”
Now, more than two centuries later, we are doing the same thing, aided by modern technology. Who knows if we will do it again, regardless of who wins this round.
Many have compared today’s political passions to the pre-Civil War era. How are such perspectives to be considered? If we view them as warned by the first President, restraint, foreboding, and caution. If we dismiss the comparisons altogether, we can go to “war.”
I once had a cut on my hand. Someone asked if it was serious, I replied, “it depends on how much I scratch.”
That’s the difference.