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This Content From 2003 (or earlier) see index

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Political Essays

Composed Thoughts

This space is spare at the moment. However, it will be the resting place for any composed political thoughts I generate. Rants that grow up to become fully-baked ideas.

Social Topics
Class Resentment: in which I endeavour to understand and explain my thoughts and prejudices regarding class in contemporary society.

Culture Wars: in which I endeavour to understand and explain my hopes and fears regarding culture.

War Writings
Thoughts on an anti-war movement
Why people want war

Fundamendals (a short essay on the basis of disagreements)

In today's rather charged political climate, I often turn on the radio or TV, pick up a newspaper or book, click through a website, and am shocked by what I see and hear. I'm referring to the amount of ardent right-wing commentary that has burst forth since last September. The rise of the right-wing media has been noticed by all. It's been going on for some time (thank you Mr. Murdoc), and I think it's probably a good thing that there are more diverse pundnants prostelatyzing their particular brand of worldview, even if I don't agree with many of them. What I find shocking are the actual opinions being expressed. I turn on Fox News and I see propaganda. I can't actually believe the people speaking sincerely believe the words coming out of their mouths.

So I set about thinking, what are the core differences in thought and opinion between me and these other voices. I focused on the debate over attacking Iraq, and I came up with a few good examples.

  1. Can't we all just get along?
    Here's a quote from the above-linked blog entry: "We prefer to deal with our fellow countrymen in a spirit of friendship and fairness, and to have each of us deal with all the others as equals.... But if you try to negotiate with a bear, you'll get eaten. Bears don't think like that."

    Personally I find the mindset behind that statement to be pretty dissappointing. As a human being, one of my core values is that communication is possible. No matter how differently they are rased, any two people who have never met have more in common than they have setting themselves apart. Only when they interact can that balance begin to tip in a bad way, and really no matter how far it is tipped, recovery is ever possible, if not always probable.

    The author of the statement quoted above obviously disagrees. He seems to regard people unfriendly to the US as animals, not people. This is what is classically called a "Hobbsian" world view, referring to Thomas Hobbes and his seminal work Leviathan in which he argues that the state of nature, the natural state of humankind, is a "war of all against all." I tend to be a little more Rousseauian, believing that the natural state of things is that there's enough to go around (an absence of distressing circumstances) and that people tend to get along.

    This is pratically significant becasue depending on how you fall on this question, you'll have very different ideas about how to keep America safe in the future. The author above is very supportive of attacking Iraq, seeing Saddam as yet another Bear, and he cites radical Islam as a great threat to US interests, one that should be eliminated.

    My position differs. I'll agree that Saddam is a bad person, and probably not very trustworthy when it comes to negotiations. I'll agree that radical Islam is a threat and something we should be conscious of going forward. However, my contention is that there's a very narrow tipping point for widespread terrorist activity. Sudicide bombers spring from regions of extreme poverty, places without opportunity. My contention is that saying "these people hate freedom so they attack us" is a radical oversimplification. My contention is that without a laundry list of tangible transgressions by the US government (e.g. bodies with our bullets in them) raising a terrorist army would be no easy task. My contention is that we can all get along. This just becomes infinitely more difficult when violence is introduced, reciprocated, allowed to take over.

  2. What time frame do we think in?
    It seems to me that many people I disagree with simply don't think as long-term as I tend to. People see Iraq and their possible chemical weapons as the greatest threat to humanity, I look at melting polar ice caps and say, "if we don't start thinking a little bit bigger, we're pretty fucked." Right-wing commentators rutinely deride environmentalism, and I've had to put up with some good-natured ribbing from my own family for sympathizing with the "tree huggers." I just see this as short-sightedness.

    My basic contention is that our ability to radically screw up the ecosystem that is already strained to support 6+ billion lives is far more dangerous to humanity's long-term prospects than all of Iraq's collected weapons of mass distruction. The amount of ready-to-use nuclear arms on the planet are also of great concern, but most of the nations which profess to have such capabilities seem to be at least somewhat rational in their unwillingness to use them.

    The truth is that we're doing pretty well as a nation and as a globe. Instead of fear-mongering and trying to get quick wins, we should really be thinking of how to use today's prosperity to help insure tomorrow's. I genuinely fear that if we just let it ride, we're going to set processes into motion that we simply cannot reverse, and we'll be forces to live or die by the consequences.

    Likewise with the war on Terror. If our goal is to leave the nation more secure for our children, and how can this not be a goal, then we must look at how to constructively engage those who dislike us. We must be wary of the blood on our hands, wary of being sinful fathers.

  3. Do we have a Manifest Destiny?
    Many people, religious and secular, seem to believe that they, either as citizens of a nation or as a specific class of people, have a certan Manifest Destiny to fulfill. Usually this involves conquoring or dominating some Other for their own express gain. This is the viewpoint of people I know out West who are supporters of expanded logging and ranching: "The Land is there for us to make it Produce."

    This also seems to be the underlying opinion of many of the newly-forged patriots, the notion that America the Beautiful has a destiny, a right to world domination, that American lives are worth more than others, that American interests are of paramount importance. This is not a point of view I share.

    I don't think my life is a-priori worth any more than any other human beings. Why should some die and others live? When the US engages in warfare, or even in "peacekeeping" operations, we often kill others that ours might be at less risk. I find this kind of trade-off highly arbitrary.

    I love the idea of America, but the reality (as often happens) falls somewhat short. I certainly can't believe that the nation as it exists has any kind of divine mandate, intrinsic destiny or right to dominate others.

  4. Hoard or Share?
    Finally, the major question we have to answer as a people is whether we're here to hoard or to share. We have a very hoarding-oriented culture, holdover from the hunter-gatherer days no doubt. But the reality is, if we prepetuate the hoarding mindset we're going to prepetuate conflict. We've got enough wealth, we've got enough power, we need to start spreading it around.

    Classically, wealth is conservative. It sees the rise of other stars as a direct threat to its own. However, history teaches that when wealth is distributed, the total amount of wealth increases much quicker than if it is centralized. By that rationale, we should be trying to build other economies and federate our power with other nations in order to pursue our collective interests (e.g. building up global infrastructure, developing sustainable levels of production, exploring beyond our biosphere, etc) as opposed to trying to solidify our position and isolate ourselves. This was barely a tenable position in the 19th century. Today it's just not going to work.

You may call me naive, that I don't understand the world works. My response is that taking a fearful/hawkish Hobbsian point of view is taking the easy way out. It's not going to result in truly great things. I want great things. War does not accomplish great things.

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Trips in Space and Time 8/02/03

Big Wheels in Berkeley
I scored a set of west-coast wheels today at the Ashby BART station flea market. It's a very tall schwinn road bike, black, deceptively heavy but smooth-riding. Thirty-five dollars to boot. I oiled and cleaned the works, dialed in the bakes and took it out for a shake-down cruise immediately. Nice riding on a beautiful saturday, realizing how out of shape I am as I wheezed my way though the hilly area behind the Berkeley campus.

After about an hour I started to get the swing of it. Made some minor mechanical adjustments (including a free wheel truing at the bike collective on Shattuck), drank a few liters of water and started finding my groove, cruising up and around and ending up with a beautiful view of the whole bay. The roads here are not kind to the speed inclined -- too many stop signs and crosswalks and lights -- but it was good to get out and proj for a while. This changes my summer dramatically.

...older trips...


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