Category Archives: Sociology

Beer Diplomacy

One of my earliest posts to this blog about something I called ‘twitter diplomacy’. Last winter, amid the Israeli-Hamas skirmish over Israel’s retalliation over captured soldiers, an item appeared in the New York Times about social media. It seems that Israel’s communication managers were engaging the criticism of the nation’s allegedly “disproportionate” reaction (bombs away; civilians killed) to what Israel saw as Hamas’ aggression.

The very look of tweets — “Is” for Israel and far more bizarre and unintentionally ironic or absurdist verbal truncations to describe the fog of war –struck me as a blend of Orwell and Beckett. It looked like the language of diplomacy had been taken over by adolescents engaged in a game of “Doom” on X-box.

But at the same time I could see the sense of it. After all, it wasn’t what it resembled — tweens texting. The conversation — stacatto ping-pong — may have looked lightweight, but it certainly wasn’t. The back-and-forth was about life and death issues — ancient, modern, complex and profound. But on reflection, there was nothing inherently wrong or wrong-headed about conducting a conversation about those issues in tweets than in paragraphed op eds and communiques.

The issue of the moment happens to be the dueling accusations over the brief but well publicized arrest of Henry Gates by a Cambridge, Mass. police officer.  The prominence of the Professor Gates — a Harvard professor, acclaimed scholar, media personality and influential friend of the most powerful public officials in the U.S. including the president– led rapidly to the issue’s escalation to the top of the issues food chain: a presidential press conference intended to lobby the nation on universal, public health care.

Every plot element in this story has seemed unlikely. A famous African-American Harvard professor’s arrest in his own home. The arresting officer accused of racial profiling, but revealed to be nothing less than a sensitivity trainer, himself. The president of the United States characterizing the Cambridge police’s arrest of Gates as ‘stupid’ — but within 24 hours marching into the White House press secretary’s press briefing to offer a quasi apology for having used language that had made a bad situation worse.

Then it was time to pop open a cold one — or, that is, surface the trial balloon of a beer diplomacy moment (as opposed to a teachable moment).  Rather than unsheath their swords in rhetorical and legal combat, the principal Montague and Capulet would quaff a hearty brew in the neutral corner office of Mr. Obama. There, more manageable issues could be discussed, including the matter of the beer, itself (domestic, in this case, because the White House doesn’t stock the police officer’s favorite because it’s foreign-made).
That’s a issue that even a hot-head can wrap his fingers around.  That’s a controversy that doesn’t require a Nobel Peace Prize winner for the engineering of a compromise.

What if, on closer inspection, and with the aid of a cold one and a bowl of peanuts, race relations were found to be no harder to resolve than multi-lateral agreement on the brand of a beer? Didn’t Forest Gump make it abundantly clear that life is just a box of chocolates?

Maybe we’ve all been over-thinking this whole thing.


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