Thursday, March 20, 2003

To All Americans

Freedom is an elusive thing. To have, to hold, and to conceive. Try to define it, you will join a divergent chorus. In spite of this, most of us understand at least a common sense of freedom, of what it means, and this usually seems to be good enough. We tend to agree that an American should be free to live without undue interference, to speak, and to own property. Beyond that, there are dueling interpretations of how far we should go.

You'll notice that I specifically mention this freedom in regards to being "an American". With all due respect to the Declaration of Independence, and the ideals expressed within, Americans have always fought for and believed in "our" freedom, not "theirs", and in those cases where we did liberate other peoples we were ultimately doing so for our own purposes, and not strictly for theirs.

This goes back to our origins. Our founding fathers and fellow revolutionaries were not concerned with the free status of other Brits, or of people in any other country for that matter. Not fundamentally so. Our American story, and freedom, is about America, is American, and has always been that way.

At first, this institution of freedom was extended only to a minority of Americans. White men were the originally endowed. Women were seen as unfit and subservient to men, and blacks, native americans, and basically any non-whites were viewed as less-than-human. In these storied and triumphant times, freedom was new, tenuous and biased, and men were quite obviously victims of their own ignorance.

In psychological terms, a whole lot of repression was going on. How else could the belief in racial and gender superiority be justified in the light of the ideals enshrined in our Declaration of Independence? It couldn't. Today, we see this kind of behavior and thinking for what it is, misguided and ignorant, and if persisted with in the face of a more sane and rational outlook, with competing and superior information and understanding, rightly considered evil.

Which our founders of course were not. Our founders were brave and pioneering men and women, fighting against subservience and oppression, and distinguishing themselves to us and to history despite their misunderstanding and ignorance of the true state of human nature. This misapprehension of the true status of human life, and rights, and who is and what it means to be human, is unfortunate and a human error we have corrected in our times, though it still lingers in remnants, in pockets of ignorance, even among our elected leaders.

A lot our founders did get right though, and our pride as a people begins with them. We enjoy the fruits of our liberty today because of their struggles. Since those times, we've come a long way in bringing the ideal and practice of freedom into more intimate embrace. Every American is included in the franchise of freedom now, with the obvious exception of minors. Our flag waves with honor, even though some may choose to burn it. So be it. America is not and has never been evil, because we have changed and adapted to righteous challenge. In the light of reason, conflict and compassion we have improved and expanded the franchise of freedom to all Americans, and for this we should be very proud.

What we cannot be proud of is the shameful behavior of some of our fellow citizens who have trouble with opinions differing from their own, or who seek to conceal their questionable political activities behind smoke screens and legal argument. These individuals clearly do not appreciate what freedom means. Take for instance our cafeteria contras in Congress who've renamed french fries and french toast to freedom fries and freedom toast. Is this the proper example and protest to make in the name of freedom, our most cherished and founding ideal? From our elected leaders? To proclaim solidarity with the cause of Iraqi freedom by condemning the French for exercising their own freedom to disagree with and question our reasoning and motives? Are the French required to rubber stamp our every move, especially moves so dramatically divergent from international norms and our own history? Are we hypocrites? Bullies? Children? No, no, no, no, no, no, and no. Surely this isn't the vision and expectation of our forefathers.

How do we justify this attitude towards the French, this villification of them? Their leader and figurehead was the first to visit and offer his nations' condolences for our tragic losses on the day of September 11. But their national symbols didn't come crashing down on that day, ours did, so where is their overriding motive? Would we have rushed to war with Iraq if the Louvre had been felled? Honest? Our thirst for revenge is ablaze, so should theirs? By default? Who's forgotten that the greatest gift we've ever received from another nation did not fall that terrible day in September? No, our sweet lady of liberty still stands strong and vigilant. Who could forget that the French have been our friends and brothers since the very beginning of our great nation? Not me. Will our fears and passions for revenge get the better of us, clouding out all we know about ourselves, our friends, and our history?

Not even here in America do citizens believe we should be picking fights around the world for other peoples' freedom. Beyond safeguarding our freedom, homes and families, we're a peace-loving people, though you'd never guess it by looking at the seemingly non-stop skirmishes our leadership has dragged into over the past century. Why would the French differ in this regard, and not more greatly so since the policy and propaganda in this case are not of their own making, and aren't meant to be? Their private companies don't stand to profit from the takeover of Iraq, but actually stand to lose billions, with or without French support. Liberating people around the world is a noble, and still highly debatable, ideal for a freedom-loving people like we are, but it's radical in light of our history and attention spans, and needs to be presented and defended as such.

To the Americans who support the war against Iraq, I have a few questions. Do you do so strictly to "free the Iraqi people", or in acknowledgement of other imperatives? I know it sounds good, and you may have convinced yourself that this is the case, but is it really? Do you understand the ramnifications of this Bush doctrine, the number of wars in the future we must also fight? If we are to be consistent, and finish what we start? Have you projected that? I for one challenge you to look inside yourself and discover what you really believe. How many body bags will it take before we've had enough? How many people will we free? Just enough to conveniently rid ourselves of the "axis of evil"? Or just of Saddam Hussein? What about the rest of the starving and oppressed in the world, and their ruthless and terrorizing leaders? They'll probably have to wait for free trade to save them, the doctrine we've been defending up to this point.

Beyond all the rhetoric, the reality is fear and loyalty are driving us to war with Iraq, with our leaders duly cracking the whip. Despite what you may have heard, our previous approach to the world isn't necessarily broken, as some would have you to believe, at least not for the reasons being given. But boy was our own "efficiency" lacking when it counted. The world didn't irreversibly change because a cast of crusading misfits managed to slip through security and crash a few jumbo jets at a time when Americans were never suspecting such a thing. I'd like to see them try to get away with it now. They'd be torn to pieces. But still there is a lingering fear that we are vulnerable now, even though we've been so for a very, very long time, long before September 11, just unacknowledgly so by most of us enjoying our lives amidst the great economic boom, blissfully unaware of the parallel and sinister rise in terrorist ideology and targeting.

Ever since, our leaders have been feeding this fear and sense of place and loyalty, stoking the fires of our passion and irrationality and in the resulting confusion dusting off and polishing up grandiose visions deemed far too radical to pursue pre-September 11. Give them credit...opportunity knocked, and even before the commercial jets were back in the air, the hawks had taken flight. Meanwhile, rather than reflecting on the hidden costs of our privileged lives of convenience and dominance, and assessing where our paths are leading us and why large majorities of suffering and impoverished people hate us and wish for our destruction, we tune that out and follow the flutes of our seemingly fearless leaders, the true radicals. I admire them for their passion and resolve, and fear them for their tactics, sensitivity and love of secrecy. The bottom line is simple. Across the ocean lie oil fields we have become dependent on for our opulent national lifestyle, and these fields are surrounded by impoverished people who envy and hate us. Will we work to engage them, to influence their thinking and raise their good will, or will we engage in the politically unthinkable, and attack them in an offensive war to preserve our way of life?

Before you dismiss this argument as itself overly radical, ask yourself if you support invading Somalia, Vietnam, Libya and North Korea any time soon to secure "their" freedom? How about Iran? Is consistency and recognition of the actual fortitude this national mission will require to be successful asking for too much? Has there been any real, informed dialogue on any of this? Any forthrightness with the American people? Among the American people? From anyone in the maintream media?

The reality is that if and when we invade a country in the unilateral war against tyranny, as opposed to the global war against terror, we will only do so with popular domestic support for two reasons: our security and our interests, in that order. Liberating other people, especially people with whom we have little to no bond or history, is merely an effect, or pure rhetoric. Honesty tells us that. On the other hand, to save our skins, to secure our homes and families, should it come to that and we be convinced of such an inevitability, we'll invade and liberate any people. Let there be no mistake about that, or of the power, passion and courage we will bring in this most important matter of defense. I warn anyone against taking us lightly in these matters of life and death. We are not, never have been, and never will be a cowardly lot.

The world is a dangerous place. We ought to and will defend our homes, our families, our country, our friends, our neighbors and our freedom, but not anyone else's. Not yet. Not until we are willing to acknowledge all the evil that men do, including our own, here at home, what we've done, what we're doing. The guns, bombs, dictators and devastation we've brought to the four corners of the globe is a reality that's hard to plausibly deny. The corruption, deceit, and crime in our homeland are plainly evident for anyone to see. How many scandals have we found about long after the fact? That would have outraged us and had devastating political and even criminal consequence to those involved had the scandalous affairs come to light in a more timely fashion? How many lone psychos and loose cannons with an agenda or a passion to maim and kill do we have roaming our countrysides, suburbs and highways? Enough I'd say. Enough to say "enough", it's time to get our house in order.

Even the most ardent jingoist can't deny that, either by intent or effect, we've had impacts on the world that have not always been positive, or even well-meaning. Human nature and self-interest being what it is, who would expect less? All the more reason why we as Americans need greater participation in the affairs of our nation, and more oversight into the activities of our elected leaders, not less. We don't need restrictions on liberty, but enhancements in communication and timely information, and less rhetoric and more reasoning behind policies both foreign and domestic. The linkages between politics and economics should also be fair warning against excessive secrecy, as how is one to compete fairly in the market when political insiders with access to classified information and task group strategy sessions can get the early jump?

The bottom line is we need wholesale change in this country, and much more so than just a newly forged missionary zeal to take the fight against terror and tyranny to the world. Weakened dictators like Saddam Hussein are easy to slap around; changing ourselves and shaking off the corruption that infects us is much more difficult. Again, if you think I'm being too radical, too extreme, just take a moment and really think about it. Dry yourself off from the senseless stream of recycled information flowing from the pundits and talk-show hosts in the mainstream media and bask in the sunlight of divergent opinions on the Internet for awhile. Get some color. Then tell me who's extreme.

What you'll find is a lot of praiseworthy deeds we Americans are known for, as well as a competing amount of evidence and testimony that we've made mistakes, sometimes some really big ones, both in the past and in the present. Is your first instinct to automatically tune out this negative information? To ignore or devalue anything that challenges your belief system or your reasoning? To avoid this feeling which is known as cognitive dissonance, swiftly dismissing any non-supportive evidence of your belief system as the work of tricksters, traitors or infidels? It's okay if this is your's a natural instinct. One carefully reinforced in human culture, especially by the halls of power and commerce, who've invested so heavily in this type of research. What's not okay is to give in to it, to let this feeling control your thoughts and pool of available information. Why? The result is repression and ignorance, and we've covered these perils earlier in this appeal. Have we come this far as a country just so we can fall back to where we started?

Everyone makes mistakes, including me, you, and our great nation. Perfection is not an option, or even a desired value, and we needn't worry about it. Self-awareness and integrity, on the other hand, are well within our control, both as individuals and as a nation, and at bottom require taking ownership and accountability for our actions, knowing why we do them, and being aware of their consequent effects. Unfortunately, as the masters of secrecy and plausible deniability, we never own up to anything.

Thus our dilemma. One cannot act with integrity and at the same time duck information that would seem to prove one otherwise. This is called weakness. Strength is facing the conflicting information with open eyes, ears and minds, evaluating, challenging, responding, discrediting, acknowledging and integrating. Engaging. Perhaps more than anything else, reveling in the newfound wellspring of information and global communication we've constructed, and building new alliances and finding novel solutions to age-old problems. Surely this sounds better than plausibile deniability and shock-and-awe warfare, doesn't it? I hope so. Never forget that this is our life, our time, and our place, and we're free to pursue these great adventures and vast challenges ahead with integrity rather than plausible deniability, if we choose to do so. We should. These are heady times, and we are ready people.

So let's get accountable, fix up a spot alongside freedom for integrity on our trophy case, get our own house in order, and then set off to ensure another century of enlightened civilization on this our most precious planet Earth. Better yet, let's raise the bar another notch. Forget about a new American century, since such thinking is far too parochial for the great spirit of our times and for the great depth of our and other peoples' love for freedom. What we're really talking about now is a century of freedom, not just for Americans but for our friends and neighbors abroad, for all peoples, a legacy for all human beings. Only in this pursuit will America fulfill its prophetic promise set forth in the Declaration of Independence, that all men are created equal, and are endowed by their creator with inalienable rights which no person or state may run asunder. It's not a utopian dream my friends, but a reality, and the mandate given to us at our birth as a nation. We can do this. We can endure these growing pains, just as surely as we can secure the liberation of all human beings, cultures and civilization in a freely willing community of independent nations and peoples, each cooperating to keep the others in check, and each preserving its own special character. We can, and we will. I'll be the first to volunteer my services in this war against ignorance, repression and evil, and don't be in the least surprised, once they hear our song, to find the rest of the world clamoring to join our ranks.

Thank you, and God bless America.

(this added after the blog started, but written before the blog started, and explains what I'm about and why I started the blog)