We like war
In March, 2003, shortly after the US invaded Iraq, I got involved in a philosophical exchange via email with someone who held differing views. He sent me to read this essay and I ended up spending two days there taking on the hawks of that blog. Recently, I've gotten a couple of emails from people who've just come across the essay and all the responses (including mine). A war supporter sent me two long emails to which I responded below:
I don’t know what it is you’d like me to respond to. Since you sent me two massive things to go through, I’m just going to give you my thoughts in a fairly spontaneous way. If I miss something or characterize your position incorrectly, you can call me on it if you want. After all, in effect you’ve had more than two years to frame your responses to selected things I wrote (which were composed in the heat of the moment over an exhausting two day period). When I got the previous email response, I was motivated to go back and see what I’d written then and I’ll admit to wishing I’d done a couple of things differently. If I had it to do over, I wouldn’t have done the blood-in-the-water-shark-baiting thing in my first post. And I wish I hadn’t called anyone a name (“moron”). Other than that, I stand by everything I wrote at that time, for what it’s worth.
I appreciate that you make an attempt to find some common ground. In general, I think that’s been missing from much of the dialogue concerning this subject...most people only seem to want to score points and/or pump up the people who already believe the same thing they do. It seems like a pretty useless activity to me. It’s one of the reasons I don’t do that much blog posting (that was my first attempt)...people ignore the opportunity to come together to form any kind of consensus in favor of bashing each others' heads in.
You wasted your time pasting all of that bin Laden
stuff. First of all, I’ve read it before and secondly, why is it that so many people in your camp choose to believe that either we’re unaware of what he says or that we somehow sympathize with him? As long as we continue to have this “you’re either for us or you’re for the terrorists” mindset, then the common ground I mentioned above isn’t going to amount to much. Why would intelligent people let themselves be manipulated into thinking that? Although I’m fairly confident that your reaction will be to scoff, I can offer considerable (what I regard as) evidence that Osama is being served perfectly by our present policy.
I don’t even want to get into the whole subject of whether or not this adventure was about oil. I’ll admit to you, when I re-read those exchanges from a couple of years ago, one thing that I thought was that “well, most likely this ‘it isn’t for oil, you idiot’ mentality has likely changed considerably in light of revelations of the past couple of years. That you can still suggest it’s a non-issue at this late date indicates that we live in such different worlds that this subject can’t be discussed reasonably. I agree with your analysis that alternative energy sources need to be cultivated, but you seem to imply that it ought to be the product of good old-fashioned Yankee ingenuity. And while I don’t disagree with that, the reality is, we live in a country where the oil companies and the established energy providers get to call the shots via their pipeline to power...and they have (what I would call) a criminal disinterest in helping wean the world from the status quo. And this argument is remarkably similar to the one I hear these days regarding those hurt most by the recent hurricane disasters. “Why are people sitting around waiting for the government to save them, they should get off their asses and take care of themselves.” The truth is, I couldn’t agree more. But it’s beyond disingenuous to disregard the implicit and explicit promises our government has made to us over the course of my lifetime: “Pay your taxes and we will take care of you...pay more and we’ll do an even better job...trust us, you’ll be safe.” The truth is, they can NEVER make us safe and it’s unfortunate that a lot of people have bought it. But to suggest that that wasn’t the INTENTION of the government when they made those promises is even more unfortunate. And your “tell your neighbors to get rid of their SUV’s” is just more of, “it doesn’t matter if the government is standing on your neck, take care of yourself”...it's a similar prescription. Yeah, every single one of us would be far better equipped to take care of ourselves and the problems we face if the government wasn’t doing absolutely everything in its power to discourage us.
Your correspondence with Bill Whittle highlights more profound fundamental differences in our respective positions. You seem to be someone who regards going to war and the subsequent loss of life and property that follows as merely a choice of strategy. I’m very sorry to report that, in a conversation with me, any proceeding protestations along the lines of “we all hate war” and “every life is sacred” hold very little water. It seems to me that you and Bill Whittle and his disciples have, at the very least, an opinion regarding war as an acceptable, if not desirable mode of human interaction. (And I’ve yet to hear even one defender of our present conflict reconcile the fact that none of the people shaping our current policy have had military experience or anything but a strong desire to avoid it...except maybe for Colin Powell...oh wait)
So here’s my analysis generally. You think of yourself as smart and unassailable by any propaganda (in spite of GW actually SAYING that he’s in the business of “propelling the propaganda”). So you totally objectively determine that the threat posed by the Islamist jihad (as personified by Osama bin Laden, Saddam Hussein, Jose Padilla, Al Franken and God knows who else today) is so incredibly horrific and compelling that we’re completely justified in attacking whomever in order to save our children. The alternative is so unthinkable that it’s far better to bankrupt ourselves and leave our children and generations to come a country in an economic hole so huge that they don’t stand a chance of digging themselves out. I’m giving you the benefit of the doubt that you’re actually aware of the economic considerations...and if that’s the case then you would also be aware of such things as cost/benefit analysis. If you are, then I have to believe that you have thoughtfully considered the ramifications of this war. And that you would still be cheering it on tells me one of two things: 1) You’re convinced that this threat is so horrible and complete that fighting it is worth any cost or 2) You get kind of a vicarious thrill that we’re at war.
So this is where that puts us: if you choose 1...we disagree and it’s my view that you’ve swallowed a line of crap and you don’t have a good historical understanding of the relationship EVERY government has ever had with its citizens (and if you think this is the One True Blessed Government that defies all of that, I can’t respond). If you choose 2, I also can’t respond...except to say that it would be incredibly refreshing to finally hear a hawk actually say that (which none I’m aware of would ever dare do in mixed company). But it’s only in speaking our most fervently held truths that we can ever hope to live together.
Peace march 9-24-05
It’s nice to see the commitment of the many people who are preparing to march today in Washington and those who provide emotional support.
I'd like to point out one thing, however. Katrina
says "no system of power ever has built into it any way for anyone to take the power away from those who hold it. Ever." The people who wrote the Constitution did a reasonable job of trying to limit the power that could potentially be amassed by our government. It's only been through our inattention and gullibility that those limits have been eroded and removed.
This crisis we face didn't start in the last five years, and until the critical mass of American citizens recognize ALL the aspects of the power we've slowly surrendered are we really going to make a difference. It's going to be very very difficult for a lot of us to realize that whether it's the ability to make war or the creation of a welfare state, every crumb of that abdicated power accumulates into the travesty that's become visible to almost everyone.
You can say, "well, war is bad" and "taxing people to help those less fortunate is good." Obviously, not all people will agree as to what is "good" or "bad," but what everyone ought to be able to recognize is that the MACHINERY created to make ANY of these things (aside from your own personal value judgments about them) happen means that it's now in place and individual citizens have lost the power. And because we've advanced this far down the road, the people holding the power feel invincible, which is why they're so blatant in exercising it now.
The recent hurricane devastation ought to make it abundantly clear that benevolence can't be legislated. The only thing that will be legislated are those things that will serve the ends of INCREASING the power grab. A lot of us are opposed to war (and likely this one in particular)...but if we don't accept the realization that it's the exact same powerlessness that permits the prosecution of any war without our approval that evolves from our encouragement of the government to play Santa Claus, we're never going to get out of the mess we're in.
We can never ever expect that if we just put our power in the hands of the "right folks" that everything will be peachy. We have to take it back...and there are many ways to do it. Hopefully this weekend will be a step in that direction.
My thanks to all who are putting it on the line.
For all the people who seem to be coming to the realization that the Demopublican grip on the political machinery is uniltateral and virtually unbreakable, welcome to the club. As has been pointed out in various ways, the only true motivation any of these politicians have is self-preservation.
To all of you who still think that one party is a Shining Light and the other is a bunch of scumbags, I suggest you're playing the precise game that's expected of you...fight amongst yourselves while the thieves vanish in the night with the last remaining scraps of everything you've held dear.
If. at this point in our history, someone who still thinks that all we have to do is get the Right Person or the Right Party into public office and everything will be fixed, understands neither the depth of the problems we face nor the nature of the machinery in place to deal with those problems.
Unfortunately for the majority of people who have been told since just after leaving the womb that the government can make all their dreams come true, the realization that it can never happen may still take some time to sink in. Sorry to report it's an impossibility. So as long as you continue to yearn for the government to create the utopia you envision, and believe that changes in personalities will make that happen, the slide down the hill is going to continue to pick up speed.
I submit that many people from the Gulf Coast are being slapped in the face with this harsh realization. It doesn't make any difference whether you ascribe the suffering of tens of thousands to heartlessness or incompetence on the part of the various government entities...at the end of the day you've still lost everything. The implied promise of government ("we'll take care of you") is bankrupt and the rest of the country is not far behind.
If you want to REALLY take steps to minimize catastrophe (in every sense), you need to recognize what's at the source. Any top-down solution (changing the faces of the window dressing) not only won't work, it takes the focus away from the substance of the problem. The only thing that's going to work is one that comes from the bottom up...which is going to require a fundamental shift on the part of the citizens of this country.
The Plan...first step?
I've seen a lot of commentary these days including the patented reference that "whining is not a plan.®" I think we're still at a stage where spotlighting the failures of our situation is valuable for many who don't yet grasp that basic, bed-rock changes are called for and to offer the sorts of solutions that may be necessary will seem to many to be too radical to consider.
Rather than offer The Plan for saving America and all mankind, I'd offer this observation: While I'm sure it's true that most people alive today aren't conscious of it, the path this country has taken since the beginning of the 19th century toward granting the government increasing power and responsibility for the security and well-being of its citizens has been a slow, yet mostly unchallenged one. Its slow but steady progress has brainwashed people into thinking that a) this is always how it's been and b) it's the way it should be and the only way it can be.
The Katrina disaster is another signpost along this road and I suggest it represents one of the more striking possibilities for recognition of some crucial insights.
Underlying much of the impatience and anger being leveled at the administration is a disbelief that our leaders could appear so heartless and uncaring. The actual fact is, compassion is a HUMAN quality and one that's demonstrably not possible or present within an institution. We want and somehow expect our elected leaders to demonstrate compassion and in some cases they do, on an individual basis. It's my opinion that for the most part, they're most likely to do that if there are political gains to be made. This is not to say that no one in government has a heart, only that at the end of the day their own self-interest will inspire their actions.
In this case, however, I believe the president has allowed us to see, in HIS face, the actual institutional face of our government. It's impersonal, heartless and self-serving. By saying to the world that he identifies with the rebuilding of Trent Lott's house as a priority, for example, Mr. Bush puts all of us on notice that we'd better look out for ourselves.
So, this is my strategy: Begin accepting the idea that no one can look out for you better than you can and in almost every case the cost/benefit breakdown of ceding the power for your own well-being to the state is not worth it.
I imagine at this moment many of the survivors along the Gulf Coast are experiencing just such an "ah-ha!" moment. I humbly suggest that you consider having yours BEFORE such a disaster confronts you and yours.
More government is the solution?
What the current regime (and in fact pretty much every regime to date) does in the name of free markets is a gross misrepresentation of the term. I think many people on the "left" can be forgiven for not knowing that REAL free trade doesn't mean some people get to have the rules bent to make them more profitable. It operates on the idea that a level playing field, with buyers able to freely make their own choices and sellers providing the products that those buyers actually want (with no coercion exerted from any direction) is the only truly moral and peaceful form of commerce possible.
No czar, bureaucrat or divinely anointed legislative body can ever possibly know in advance which products will be most efficient or appealing nor the prices that ought to accompany them. To attempt to operate otherwise means that governmental force must be used to achieve a particular outcome. That this is considered acceptable (tariffs, price freezing, etc.) presupposes that if you have something to sell and I want to buy it, that we must have a third party tell us whether or not we're smart enough or responsible enough to make the transaction.
Of course, that's a pretty common mindset...people are too stupid to know what their self-interests are, so they must be protected. Meanwhile, the present abortion of an economic system illustrates well how we're being "protected" into the grave.
If you like, you can blame all our current problems on a few bad apples in the current administration and in lots of ways, you'd get no argument from me regarding their performance. But I think, if one lets the mist part a little and realizes that the problems that are being identified now have been with us (and growing) for quite some time, you might recognize the need for more fundamental change.
More government and more control won't equal more compassion and a greater institutional impulse to provide for the security of the citizenry. Changing the faces won't do it either. We've let ourselves be seduced that our government a) wants to take care of us and b) is capable of doing it. If we really thought about it, we'd realize that no government can efficiently keep our lives as secure as we'd like and we'd further realize that like all the rest of the humans on the planet, their primary interest is in looking out for themselves and perpetuating the system that insures their way of life.
And unfortunately, the perpetuation of their way of life does most of the rest of us no good at all and is, in fact, counter to OUR self-interests.
When we recognize the failings of our government, I submit that the appropriate response is not to bend over and meekly ask for more of the same (or in some cases, shaking a fist and demanding
If you're looking at the current mess (Katrina) as it slowly unfolds, follow your FIRST impulse: "what can I do to help?" Forget about what can the government do...because the answer is: very little and not very well and the price is way too high.
Taking it back
(reference For Bush, Katrina is the Perfect Storm
Although both Mr. Stone and many of the people commenting on the article offer good starting points for discussion, I'm not willing to assign high intelligence or the masterful following of an agenda to this administration.
The promise that Americans (and many other humans on the planet) have been seduced into accepting that a) their government is motivated to provide for their security and b) that they are somehow extraordinarily qualified to do it, is hopefully coming under some scrutiny as a result of this disaster.
As one example related to this event, consider that if a levee that was susceptible to failure was owned by a person or organization in the private sector, those interests would necessarily have to be insured and that fact would have forced the people responsible to meet the requirements of whatever agency was underwriting that insurance. And as much as people want to speculate and assign blame for the disrepair of those levees, the actual bottom-line fact is: no one was responsible. Responsibility defined as being directly and immediately injured by the subsequent loss.
Absent such responsibility (which will ALWAYS be the case when we attempt to assign it to government), we have to rely on the wisdom and good nature of our government to take the action necessary to prevent catastrophe and/or administer the bandages. If the political capital that can be gained by doing so is great enough, they will...if it doesn't, they won't. No politician whose self-interest is in maintaining their career and its attendant power will EVER make a decision on any other basis.
As it happens, at this point in our history we get to see this truth writ large. The majority party is so drunk on that majority they don't seem to care that everyone can see that things like "compassion" and "securing the homeland" and "looking out for the little guy" are myths borne of political expediency. The "other party" dares not rock the boat (they may be slightly chagrined that that the emperor has not only taken off his clothes but is now dancing gleefully across the graves of many of his countrypeople) because they know their bread is buttered on the same side. Unfortunately, it's not on the side of the citizens of this country and never has been.
I'm here to tell you it never will be.
Although these people may seem to be the worst of the lot, I'd like to suggest that they're doing us a service (as alluded to in this article). The "waking up" that's being called for from so many quarters today should not be based on the idea that if we just get rid of a couple of particularly distasteful apples that the future will be rosy. I think we'd better be ready to literally take care of ourselves and to the extent that each of us is able and inspired, take care of each other.
I'd hope this is what we REALLY mean when we say "let's take our country back."