Monday, October 13, 2003

Dissonance, Columbus, And Democracy

We live in a dangerous world today. All over the globe, relations are falling apart, suspicions are growing, and arms are spread at virulent rates. Under these conditions, calls for security and rebellion, depending on which side of the equation you view yourself on, will only grow. This is the setting upon which I write today. That we have freedom today is a blessing, that we keep it in the future is largely dependent on how responsible we are in defense today.

Part of that defense is fostering and promoting democracy worldwide. The difficulty of this mission can best be seen in our own history. Christopher Columbus, by the standards of today, was a genocidal maniac who committed severe crimes against humanity. By the standards of his day, however, by which he in the end can only be judged, he cannot be treated as harshly. That was "the way it is" back then, and it didn't change for a long time after.

Here in America, the ignorance and brutality of our early history, as compared to our understandings today, highlights the difficult transition from tribal narcissism and hatreds. Our great Constitution itself is stained by references to individuals of dark complexion as being a fraction of human. We brutalized, murdered, and raped countless people with this particular skin complexion, and did it all the while trumping the greatness and inalienability of human rights.

Following Columbus' lead, we slaughtered and railroaded millions of native dwellers of the American continent. The eminent Ben Franklin himself saw the only solution to the "savages" problem in their inevitable extermination. America, the shining beacon of freedom, justice and liberalism, committed repeated and infamous "crimes against humanity". Why? In the pursuit of property and wealth, disguised in a beautific vision of "manifest destiny", but which in reality was less beautiful than barbaristic and stained with the blood and life of innocents.

We moved through those times, however, and proved that the presence of a conscience, both individual and national, has great power to move the minds and hearts of men. The originally enfranchised white men expanded the establishment, after great resistance, to women and to those of any skin complexion. This was never done without resistance and struggle. By the disenfranchised standing together, arm in arm, defeating fear in their hearts, and appealing to the conscience of their fellows, both similarly disenfranchised or enfranchised.

This is where we stand today, only having emerged into our own vision of freedom and justice for all in the last half-century. This stance is by no means bedrock either. There are those who would yearn to return to the "way it is" back in the good old days. Which brings us to dissonance. For we expect to bring freedom, justice, and democracy to all, for others, in a relatively short amount of time as part of critical security efforts, when it took us a few centuries to do it for ourselves. The standards have been raised worldwide, as the standards of free democracies have grown, but also as most of the world pretty much stayed in place, continuing to live in tribal communities and band together against "outsiders".

In this process, we can also see our own standards beginning to slide. We hold prisoners without trial or recognition in remote prisons and torture them. We proclaim this will continue indefinitely, with no clear end game. We pass laws, which were previously only the stuff of fiction and the conspiratorial imagination in popular consciousness, allowing the government to see any books either borrowed at the library or bought at the bookstore by any American. We have a leadership which is unparalleled in its homage and devotion to secrecy, and to its brash ambitions for power. We are surrendering gains made in transparency and accountability in past decades, rather than pushing to expand them, and seeing the erosion of the separation of powers in favor of an executive-favored pyramidal power structure of elite privilege, corruption, and deviance.

With all of this in mind, we need to be fair when stretching our view to the rest of the world. How their cultures and societies are structured, and what impediments stand between each unique culture or tribe and its fulfillment of destiny and homeland. In Iraq, for instance, you have a country, a political grouping, which has no basis in reality or affinity, only in history as established by a colonializing power. As in the collapse of Yugoslavia, which was only previously held together by the unique political force molded by Tito, the natural destiny of Iraq, unimpeded by any interfering outsider, would be to devolve into at least three states. By natural affinity.

That this is not even a plan on the table shows that the freedom and destiny of these peoples is not our concern. Instead, we are only worried about ourselves. Our security. Keeping Iraq together, as is, somehow helps our security, helps us, and with that conclusion in mind, we then seek to explain and persuade why it would be good for them too. This is the ideological and narcissistic version of the Bush Administration's abuse of the scientific process. Form conclusions first, based upon fear and suspicion, and then seek out evidence to confirm them. Ignore deviant information, condemn those who would promote this information, and when necessary manufacture the evidence you need to make it persuasive enough in the public arena.

This is selfishness of the highest order, and not self-defense by any sane measure. Only in the sober and rational analysis of the information at hand, tempered by emotional insight into the parties involved, and certainly not overwhelmed by emotion oneself, can the state of security be soundly assessed, and a course of defensive correction, where needed, implemented competently and with a measure of success and foreseeable closure.

Cognitive dissonance keeps us from seeing this. We are so blinded to ourselves, and what we're doing, that everything else plays off of that as a prop or foil. The people of Iraq, who are actually a number of peoples, who have no natural affinity for each other, deserve better. They deserve freedom and justice. Self-determination. Only they won't get that, and aren't getting it, because we are "determining" their future for them, based upon our own irrational security concerns. It is not about them. If you insist that it is, you are a damn fool. It is about us, and they are a prop in the great drama.

It's time to turn the great drama again back to the homeland. Back to the founding vision of America, and our continuing progress to realize it. We can help promote freedom and democracy around the globe, but only by doing so radically different than we do so today. In order to change strategies, we literally need to change the way we think about it, change our minds, and cleanse ourselves, once again, of the ignorance and errors of history.

The vision needs to be this. Maximum transparency and accountability, along with the freedom of information, as the bedrock for that particular power known as the "people". In regards to the separation of powers, there needs to be at least four, with the "people" being the core and root. This standard must be implemented here at home, rhetorically championed and won before our allies and other free democracies, and then taken to the rest of the world whether they're ready for it or not.

Again, these are dangerous days we live in. There is no time to waste. Weapons technology is only getting smaller and more powerful. With advances in genetic engineering, the risks only become greater. It's time that freedom and democracy went global, and that arm-in-arm we then surround and suffocate any oppressive elites who continue to impede the freedom and destiny of a people. Literally, that means we surround them and hold a gun to their head, as brutal as that may sound, while we choke them economically into submission. As we do this, the council of free nations allied will grow, and, as it grows, the threat will diminish, along with oppressive and brutal elites desperately holding onto power.

This can only be accomplished effectively, and in the name and aims of freedom and justice, with the requirement and guarantees of "power to the people", for constitutional protections of the freedom of information, and for full transparency and accountability implemented and protected by law. Otherwise, the trust that will be needed for this venture to succeed will dissipate, and fracture into suspicion and conspiracy, and we all will be less secure as a result.

For those who claim there is no liberal vision for security, you have your response. Compare this to what Dick Cheney has to say, and then ask yourself not only which is more appealing, which more "realist", and which more practical in action. The burden of civilization and humanity ought not to be carried on the shoulders of one nation. Sharing the burden, and gaining strength in numbers, is the saving strategy, and the one we've clearly been ignoring up to this point.