Utter Ultimata

”You will concede to my demands or be subject to my condemnation”

In a time when wars were fought solely with primitive weapons and little regard for strategic considerations beyond ”Charge! Slaughter! Don’t die!” (not necessarily in that order) surely there was merit to backing an enemy into a corner and making demands or else! It’s neat and tidy, no bloody hands and it achieved the goal intended.

But the problem is that nobody really likes being subjected to that approach. And no one ever did. So, it isn’t a big wonder that it didn’t take mankind all that long to figure out ways of getting around something like that. And we’ve been excelling and improving on those skills ever since. Sheer size and mass alone is no longer a deterrent in and of itself, like in the ”good old days” when the bigger picked on the smaller and the stronger preyed on the weaker.

Nowadays, most anyone can find a way to strike back, and that’s made the rules of combat inconveniently dirty and unpredictable. In recognition of this I suppose the act of diplomacy and democracy found a more prominent place amongst us all, and we started to favour more agreeable means of achieving our goals, like rhetorics and the power of persuasion. Some deem it a matter of having evolved to be more civilised and doing what is right and good – but lets be honest and add this; practicality and sef-image have been strongly motivating factors in bringing the change about.

At this point you may think I am speaking of world affairs and the state of politics at the highest level… I’m not, though. For many reasons. One of the most important ones being that whatever else we discuss in this world, it is rooted in the individual. In ourselves. So, in fact, I am talking about the way we interact and relate to others on a personal level. I’m talking about how we treat those around us – whatever their immediate relation to us. And I’m talking of differing opinions and perceptions that sweep away reason and logic.

I remember that as a child when I was angry with someone (not least of all my parents) the last ditch attempt usually was to hurl off some kind of rash thoughtless ultimatium with any and all kinds of threats – the most severe one that I remember being that I would run away from home if I didn’t get what I wanted (I wrote a note and then hid under my bed until my dad found me and gave me a servere talking to. I was 4).

While I would like to believe that such things are of the past, really that would be naive. I see it everyday in myself and in people who – also like myself – are supposed to be reasonable, responsible and mature adults. The language may have evolved and the threats refined, but the bottom line is still the same. Do as I say or else!

When I was a kid it never got me anywhere. I never got my way using that tactic. And usually it only made things a lot worse. The same principle on a different scale nearly caused a worldwide nuclear war when the arms race between socalled Super Powers escalated from ”my dick is bigger than your dick” to ”I’ll fucking annihilate you and your entire way of life” in a few wonderfully prosperous decades for all of mankind.

You’d think experiences like that, as a child and otherwise, might make us think twice before resorting to it as a ”step” in any process. Even if we’ve failed to grow empathic or aware enough to remember what it feels like being on the receiving end of it, it is baffling that we haven’t at least noticed how long it’s actually been since something like that won results that didn’t come right back to bite us in the ass with something far worse.

In reality all that an ultimatum brings is a complete severing of the lines of communication. Nothing said or done under the weight of something like that can be trusted or worth anything. It’s no better than forcing a confession from the lips and hands of a torture victim. At best it is a conscious lie for personal gain. At worse it is the total collapse of a mind and spirit as fragile, flawed and helpless as our own. And I don’t think those making the demands are really capable of knowing the difference. They’re too involved.

Given the notion that anyone with average intelligence must be aware of the severely flawed potential to obtain what cannot be won otherwise, my question is this:

How do you take it seriously?

I mean, when we get to the point of telling others that they’d better do as they’re told or else, … haven’t we then already lost the battle? Haven’t we already undermined the supposed authority and reason we claim to act with? And can we really expect anyone to take it – or us – seriously if we start out by telling them that we don’t really care what they think or want, they’d better just comply or suffer the consequences? It doesn’t work with children. Or with dogs. And in my experience it doesn’t work with people either. It certainly doesn’t work with me. And I don’t think that’s a big secret or significantly different for anyone else.

So, what’s the REAL point?

Is it just a naive attempt at domineering something or something, which seems to be slipping beyond control? Or is it a brain-melt of a sane person driven too far? And are the two really that different?

I’m all for drawing lines and establishing boundaries. That’s good and necessary. But expressing disapproval of something or someone cannot really be translated into a justified right to tell others what to do. We can express preferences and conditions for how and with whom we involve ourselves, sure. But can we make ourselves judges of what it means if our demands are not met? Except that the disagreement remains. Are we justified in proclaiming that non-compliance of our ultimata is proof that we were right to make the ultimatum in the first place?

And last but not least, is there any way that an ultimatum like that can be met without it leading to a complete loss of respect? Can you respect a bully? Can you respect yourself if you give into one –  even if it is the smart thing to do?

Can you avoid resenting someone for putting you in that position where there are only two options, and neither leads to a constructive out?

Can you answer an ultimatum without lying? Without destroying the reason you’re complying for?

Can torture really prove anything? Can oppression ever foster equality? Can ultimata ever be a good thing – for anyone?

Utter Ultimata

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