If I could redesign humans, starting from the ground up, I'd probably change a whole lot of things. But if I could only make one tweak, I'd add a safety valve.
This week, China and Japan have been writing chapter 9,432 in the Great Saga of Sabre Rattling, as each of these powerful nations whips up fervour and rage. over a handful of tiny islands.
The islands are known as the Senkaku Islands (if you are Japanese) or the Diaoyu Islands (if you are Chinese), and they may have oil reserves in the nearby oceans.
I have neither the patience nor the foreign policy experience to venture an opinion on whether Japan's or China's claim to the islands is better.
All I know is that both countries want the islands, whether it's directly for the oil, or indirectly to set a precedent over resources in the area.
But is that why protestors in Japan and China are so fired up? In China, in particular, there have been violent demonstrations which seem to have been initially egged on by the government, until they got out of control.
Why should a construction worker or IT guy or taxi driver in Beijing care about the fate of a tiny handful of minor, uninhabited islands hundreds of miles away, which he will certainly never set eyes on?
It certainly isn't abstract concerns about gaining the oil so that China's GDP can go up another 0.0001 per cent.
It's about intangibles, instead.
National pride and patriotism. Hatred over horrors committed 70 years ago. Raw
The governments of both China and Japan certainly know how this works. As do the governments of pretty much every powerful country in the world.
One of the worst things a politician can do is stoke up unthinking hatred. We even know this, intellectually if not instinctively.
Watch the furious arguments in the United States over Obamacare.
On the one side are people who believe that a mixed public-private health system, approaching universal health insurance, is the work of the devil, or possibly the ghosts of Stalin and Hitler.
On the other side are people who believe that their opponents are baby-eating monsters who need to be made to see reason.
From up here in Canada, with our decades-old socialized system, it's hard to take seriously. We have a system that looks like outright health communism compared to Obamacare, but it's a settled issue, one that no political party dares touch.
Yet few in the American fight are capable of stepping back and disengaging from the emotions it produces.
It's not people disagreeing that I don't understand. It's the degree of rage that scares me.
I've seen it in myself. Although I've never tossed a brick in a riot or hit someone with a bat, I don't think those actions are completely out of the realm of what I might do. I'm human. I'm susceptible to unthinking anger.
That's why I'd love to have that safety valve. It wouldn't stop people get-ting angry. It would work, instead, like the valve on an old steam engine. When the pressure gets too high, the valve hisses away, and some of the anger leaks out. No big explosion.
If I had the foggiest idea how to create that safety valve, I'd start working on it today.
Matthew Claxton is a reporter with the Langley Advance, sister paper to the Burnaby NOW.
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