|1 Oct 2003 @ 12:13, by Andy Lehman|
A man once told me that conquest, a full century or more of war, the spreading of “civilization” by force, and democratization of the world at the point of a gun are the ways in which you “transform a generation” for the better. All I could do at the time was stare in horror at the sickness expressed in that comment. I’ll begin here by saying a bit more about it. That is NOT how any person or society I could love or respect transforms a generation. That is how Hitler, Osama Bin Laden, George W. Bush/Paul Wolfowitz et al would go about transforming a generation. Yes, before you ask, in that respect, all of those monsters DO come from the same mold. They all think (thought) their qualms with the world justify massive destruction and murder. I’m not saying they’re alike in every other way. Simply that, whatever their motivations or backgrounds, that is the principle they function(ed) on. Any number of mass murderers have spouted the same line, “transform a generation” or some variant, to provide some twisted justification for their atrocities. For some of the higher level sociopaths in our own government, the favored phrase is “creative destruction”. And if America is anything I would ever even think of fighting for or caring about, EVER, then that concept of “transformation” is one of the most un-American ideas ever to infect the mind of a sentient being. When people try to “transform a generation” like that, the people whose lives they are volunteering for that transformation tend to have a problem; they tend to fight back. If, through some kind of diseased, paternalistic, paranoid delusion “America” comes to represent a force that would treat the rest of the world like a “brat child” in need of discipline, then I am glad for every bit of resistance it will face; I am glad that people will NEVER stand for such a thing, and that they will fight against it to no end.
We are the brat children if we think our “security” can justly come at such a price, and if we think “freedom” has any chance of surviving in such a world. There are an awful lot of people on this planet who have been aware, for a very long time, of the kind of insecurities we Americans are treating as some kind of revelation that we had no idea of before, and as something that gives us a good reason to go anywhere on the planet and kill people. Yet many of the people to whom such insecurity is no news manage to live their lives anyway, full of meaning and even happiness, without going crazy and calling for a global crusade to remove the insecurities that come with not having a world-wide dictatorship. That is a good thing too. If, every time someone felt insecure, they believed it gave them a right to do anything even remotely approaching what we are doing, I doubt the human race would still exist. I am not glad for the deaths and suffering that will come from it, but I am glad that the human spirit will not be subjugated by the naked force of a superpower, however puffed up with conceit that superpower is. The old “they started it” argument did not even work on the playground in school; I most certainly won’t dignify it here. And do I need to tell ANYONE that two wrongs don’t make a right? Or do you think all the death and waste that is caused by the wars you support is not wrong? Let me say it very clearly: if that is the way America, or anyone else, would bring about a “new civilization” or a civilization of any other kind, then one of the things I hope for every night as I go to sleep is their complete and utter failure in doing so.
THAT, you see, is why we are free. It has fairly little (I won’t go so far as to say nothing) to do with our unprecedented collection of killing toys, and we do not owe our government thanks for our freedom. Quite the contrary, at this point in time. If we are free in America, at least comparatively so, because none of us will tolerate any tyranny that would try to control our lives. Right? Our ancestors didn’t tolerate it and we certainly won’t. We WILL NOT tolerate injustice, LEAST OF ALL from ourselves or our own leaders. Right? If we would fight the injustice of others by committing injustices of our own, however justified we have been conned into thinking we are, we are only making it worse. It is both fascinating and horrifying to see how many people think of justice solely in terms of eagerly dishing out punishment. The “don’t you know there’s a war on?” mentality that people try to use to justify murder and little black-outs of the Constitution (thank you, Mr. Ashcroft, for those “Patriot” Act pieces of filth!) is what we cannot tolerate here. Right? The idea that we could even think of tolerating such a thing, especially from ourselves, come terrorism, war, or hell on Earth, is fundamentally un-American. Everyone seems to like to throw that word, un-American, around. Well there’s my definition of it. The idea that injustice SHOULD be tolerated, even practiced, by some but not others, is one of the cornerstones of tyranny, of misery, of dictatorship. The idea that it is EVER necessary is a smear to the very nature of our existence. “Necessary” evil is an abomination that no sane human would defend, LEAST of all when it comes to their OWN lives and deeds or the deeds of the government which supposedly does all in their name.
Hitler would have been nothing more than a crazy little man with a funny mustache if the people of Germany had not listened to him, and had not made the “sacrifices” and “compromises” of morality, reason and life the little war effort asked of them. They were accepting that evil is necessary, for their beloved cause; functioning on the same hatred and paranoia-borne idea that a people can somehow eliminate everyone who won’t tolerate its global military presence and its prescribed way of life (anyone who makes us feel insecure???). Atrocities seldom come about because there are a few people who are crazy; they come about because people the world over are taught to tolerate and justify them, as long as it is their “team” that’s committing them. “Sure, no one else can, but we just HAVE to.” Sometimes they DO happen just because of a few people. In those cases, they will do far MORE damage if the rest of us respond with “who can we kill to make it better?” You think there are enough people in this world who have a bone to pick with America to pose a threat NOW!? If this crazy little crusade keeps up, I fear that you haven’t seen anything yet. The list of people you think you need to eliminate is only going to get longer. You cannot solve the problem by spreading your own plague of naked force around the globe. There is no such thing as a “necessary” or benevolent tyranny; not even in the slightest. It is, quite simply, unacceptable. Now for a little quote:
Margaret Bourke-White: “But do you really believe you could use non-violence against someone like Hitler?”
Gandhi: “Not without defeats, and great pain. But are there no defeats in this war? No pain? What you cannot do is accept injustice from Hitler, or anyone. You must make the injustice visible, and be prepared to die like a soldier to do so.”
-“Gandhi”, during an interview scene with the reporter Margaret Bourke-White
Well, what can I say? The subject of peace has been on my mind a lot recently. I used the above quote, from the movie “Gandhi”, as the centerpiece of an article I wrote a few months ago. I know it’s just a movie; I used it because I liked the wording very much. I think it’s enough to say that I agree with almost everything in that quote; it is pretty self-explanatory. It has been bothering me for some time that one part of that quote might be used in defense or justification of the psychotic crusade the leaders of my country seem intent on conducting on the other side of the Earth. Well, as may be evidenced by that last sentence, I most emphatically do not think that is the case.
First, I’m going to throw out one point that I think most people are clear on, at least in theory (in some cases, ONLY in theory). It’s quite simple, and I’d go so far as to say it is an absolute reality; that is to say that there is no “should” involved in its most basic form. Here it is: the only person you can control with any certainty (or justification) whatsoever is yourself. Period. It is the cornerstone of the very idea of “freedom”; you CAN control yourself, you CAN exercise complete control over what you bring into the world. You are completely responsible for it, without question and without escape. You cannot (AND should not) act as if you can control others, under any circumstances. There is no exception to that truth for convenience, nor is there one for paranoia or insecurity. Now, I have to clarify that this does not mean that one ought to give up in communicating with the rest of humanity, or resign to the fact that the world cannot be changed. It means that the only PERSON you can control is you; you cannot control others by force (if you disagree with that one, well, I really don’t have time for “1984”-style mind-control fantasies or dreams of dictatorship right now). Getting together with people of your own free will to transform the world that is right in front of you, in a way that does not destroy the lives of others, is a very GOOD thing to do.
What’s the point? You cannot accept injustice, Gandhi said. There is one place on this Earth, in this universe, and ONLY one, where that can be taken to its absolute and final extent: your own life, your own mind, your own “soul”. That fact basically makes it impossible for me to take seriously anyone who would argue in favor of the present war, or for further military adventures in that part of the world or any other. They might say, perhaps, that they are doing exactly what Gandhi said, in the quote that I myself posted: not accepting injustice. But they are dead wrong. They are accepting injustice, violence, and murder as necessary, as the only option left to them, from the one place they needn’t accept it at all: themselves. The world THEY bring into being through their convictions and their actions. They are justifying death after death, of the innocent and guilty, civilians and military, ours and theirs, man, woman, and child, and the use of brutality on a scale that destroys thousands of lives and trashes entire countries. They are propagating hatred and working for a world where the proof is in the warhead of the bomb. They are using that one spot of absolute control and unquestionable influence they have in this world to bring violence and injustice into being, and they speak of imposing “justice” upon people on the other side of the planet?
If you don’t see something wrong with that… I have nothing to say to you. I am aware of an idea floating around in this country that makes it possible to see what we are doing and say, “So?”. I’ve heard it more than once; it is the idea that it is perfectly fine and just for the United States to have a double standard in its dealings with the world; that this country may use force when and where it feels necessary, while anyone who would try to resist this country may justly be destroyed. If your morality, your view of the world, and most of all your conscience would permit for such things, I think there is nothing I can say to change your mind, because double standards are immune to trivial little things like reason. So, go ahead and deal with the world through double standards, if you think it is okay. Now, as a brief aside, please pardon me for being polarized and for the war metaphor I am about to use. I was raised in America; sue me; ) . That said, if you believe in that idea and are willing to carry it out or support it in any concrete way, we are already on different sides of the battlefield of ideas. That is the ONLY “battlefield” on which free people, ANY people, should ever have to meet. I pray that we never have to meet on any other battlefield, but I promise you that we will if the double standards you would openly embrace come to control this world.
That brings me to a small confession I have to make: I am not a complete pacifist. I’ve worked with the idea, I’ve tried it on for size, and it doesn’t fit. If someone were to send a massive army across the ocean to seize military control of this country and our lives, I would fight them, right alongside the other 300 million people here. If there were another big terrorist attack, and the Bush administration were to declare martial law (purely a hypothetical situation, on both counts, I hope, presented only for the sake of example) then I would fight the government of this country. If someone tried to take away my life, and there was NO alternative at all, as in “they are coming at me with a loaded gun and there is nowhere to run and nothing to say”, then I would stop them. That also extends to the people who are closest to me in my life, but no further. Self defense, but only as a last, worn-down-to-the-bares-bones resort, queasiness and an overriding obsession with “security” be damned. Not when I’m pretty sure that the other alternatives wouldn’t work, or when I have some hunch that someday somebody might conceivably come and try to hurt me because our ideologies don’t quite match. An ABSOLUTE last resort. Until that LAST point, at which I either act or die within a space of seconds, I wouldn’t harm a hair on their heads, however evil I think they are. Until then, I will do anything I can to make sure that it does not come to violence. If I do anything less, I am helping to bring injustice into this world by way of the only person I control. If “security” comes at the cost of so many lives, and the horrors we are ourselves creating now, I want absolutely no part of it. I recognize that this world will NEVER be quite as secure as, say, the womb was, precisely because a deep respect for freedom is much more important. It’s almost a cliché to say that if you value security over freedom, you will probably lose both. I agree with it in spite of that fact. That is what this country is based on. We cannot control people to a point where we would be completely secure. It is not possible, and thank heaven for that.
Let’s not even speak of the “eye for an eye” concept. Or rather, let’s ; ) . America, at this point, and by an extremely conservative estimate, has taken at least two innocent eyes for every eye it lost in the attacks that took place two years ago. That’ll be defended by a statement that “we” didn’t mean to, or that we have some big fat righteous cause that justifies anything. Well, quite simply, that doesn’t change anything at all. The THOUSANDS of people who hate us now, very rightly, don’t give a damn about our intent. I’ve heard some express rage at the fact that Osama Bin Laden and his fellows thought that their qualms with our country, however intense, gave them a justification to kill thousands of innocent civilians. Say WHAT!? Yeah, I agree completely, and without reservation. I think it’s TERRIBLE when anyone, anywhere, thinks that their qualms with anyone else give them any justification at all to get thousands of innocent civilians trapped in the middle, NO MATTER what pompous load of rage they think makes it right. Anyone can justify anything if they’re sufficiently dosed with righteous hatred, paranoia, or some combination thereof. The people who are going to feel rather “irritated” at all the deaths we’re causing are perfectly correct in focusing solely on the injustice WE have brought into being in the form of wrecking their lives, whatever our lofty intentions were. Injustice and EVIL as a means to good? Brutality as a means to freedom? I don’t know what mockery of “morality” would allow for that, but it is something I pledge to fight, very possibly with my life, to the end.
And then there’s this one thing that doesn’t deserve much acknowledgement; the idea that if we’re not running a big war campaign on the other side of the world, we’re doing NOTHING! Duh, yeah, right. I mean I guess if we’re the kind of people who don’t know what to do with themselves if they’re not demonizing and screaming for the blood of thousands of people you’ve never met thousands of miles away from you. Or hey, if you have met them, good on you for traveling. Now, uh, why are you screaming for their blood? Once again, that does seem to be the preferred method of George W. Bush and Osama Bin Laden in dealing with the world; I’d think Americans knew better. I would THINK that Americans know perfectly well that to say “we have to make the world more secure before we stop taking the license of ‘necessary evil’” is as good as a condemnation of any movement forward. Every civilization has found a reason to justify injustice, every civilization has conned itself into thinking that it’ll be better tomorrow, after this one last little romp, just to make us feel more secure and impose order on the world. OUR order, of course. If anyone thinks they can stand against that, we “think”, well OF COURSE we have to eliminate them. And THEN we can move onwards and upwards. The voices that are telling us that we kind of need to force ourselves to inflict violence and injustice (or does it come naturally?), just until we’ve eliminated a few (thousand, er, uh, maybe million) of the people who make us queasy by virtue of the fact that we do not control them are the very voices that are telling us that a better world is not possible. Rather, they are always saying it is possible tomorrow, that a better world is ONLY possible in a world that is already fundamentally better than this one; a world that has been made fundamentally better through the employment of “necessary” violence and naked force by (insert the name of your favorite goon squad here). Pardon me, but what a crock! I’m tempted to mention the Gandhi quote about becoming “the change you want to see in the world”, so consider it mentioned.
What SHOULD we do? Well, if you’re really concerned about “national security”, okay, just imagine all the pretty border security gadgets and nice armored plane doors we could buy with that $87 billion that’s being spent on our little misinformation-based crusade over in Iraq. That is to say nothing of the other billions spent on killing toys for the rest of our imperial ambitions. Rather than going out and killing MORE people and giving more people mint-condition reasons to hate this country, I think it’d be a good idea to focus on creating, ahem, LESS destruction, all around, and certainly with regards to the part we can play. What else should you do? Well, I think another “Gandhi” quote is in order. You’re bringing LOADS of injustice into this world, more than any terrorist organization could DREAM of creating. The destruction this country is causing in the name of good by far trumps anything Osama Bin Laden could ever do, and if certain people have their way, we are just getting started. You are trying to control, to “civilize”, by force, masses upon masses of people who are most assuredly not YOU, and so you have no right to be doing so. You are doing so in the name of, among other things, your “security”, and you think that is worth however many lives it has to be. “STOP IT. FOR GOD’S SAKE, STOP IT!” There, that’s my other Gandhi quote. You like it? If the activity in question is causing this much waste (of resources that are needed many places at HOME right now, for protection of our own cities, among many other things) and destruction, the best solution really is to STOP IT.
The base of this problem is that some in this country and many in the world seem to think that individual liberty/freedom/sovereignty, the most basic type of freedom, is open to compromise by their hands if they think it is necessary. They think they can sign away the lives of other people, by the thousands, innocent or not. They think there exists a justification for such a thing. Individual sovereignty is not something only to be respected when it’s convenient or safe, “secure” or comfortable, and NONE of its terms can be dictated to anyone. They CANNOT be dictated, but that certainly does not stop people from trying. When they try, claiming to value freedom and personal responsibility, they are insulting those things. And let me tell you something about being at peace with one’s self. If any of you can be at peace with yourselves while you’re supporting this “venture”, or any venture imaginable that is based on the same fundamentally tyrannical idea, or even this so-called “civilization” (that’s for another debate), then I… see above. Battlefield of ideas, etc. To the end. All I can say is that, by my own choice, I don’t speak your language nor do I have any desire to learn it.
Okay, I think there’s another thing we need to get straight here. My in-house devil’s advocate can already hear the people telling me that I’m disrespecting their personal sovereignty, and that they can support war if they darn well please. It’s conceivable that someone would say that; perhaps I should mind my own business. I HOPE most people will know better but I pay my DA to be pretty thorough and throw me pretty much whatever he/she/it comes up with. So, if you DO think that: no I am not disrespecting your individuality, not one bit. There is not a single force on this planet that will try to force you to read the words I’m writing, live by them, or take even a single one of them seriously out of anything but your own free will. The only thing that could possibly threaten you is the meaning your mind gives to these words. I am not attacking any person in particular; I am attacking ideas that I have heard expressed by particular people, and if those ideas are dear to you, okay. If it is something in your RATIONAL mind that tells you there is meaning in what I’ve said here, and that threatens you, then have a nice day. I have no power to threaten you, and I do not want any. I would oppose anyone who did, just as I oppose you when you try to justify doing it to others, anywhere, for ANY reason. I want to communicate with fellow free beings, and that is all. What I am doing here is trying to make a “meme” in my own country visible. It is a meme that tolerates and more alarmingly produces injustice, so I think it is a rather serious problem. I am trying to make it very clear that some of the central ideas I see expressed and put into practice by people around me, sometimes in my name, are recipes for atrocity and poisons to freedom. They are only ideas here, and it is much worse elsewhere? Great, let’s hope it stays that way, let’s pray to whoever our omnipotent imaginary friend is that they never become more, but most of all let’s stop them OURSELVES right here and right now. The only place on the planet we can control that is right HERE, and HERE we can control it absolutely; in our corner of the world, and nowhere else. The lives of others belong to others. We are entirely responsible for what goes on here, and we are not responsible for anyone else.
Let me say that again, for emphasis: our responsibility to and for ourselves is total; our preordained obligatory responsibility to and for the people we claim to be “liberating” as we murder and occupy, is ZERO. Nothing. Nil. It is an extremely twisted idea of “compassion” that would make us the slaves or the obligatory “liberators” (even if it could work that way) of everyone on the planet who wasn’t lucky enough (relatively speaking) to be born as we were. They owe us nothing, we owe them nothing; they are entirely responsible for their own lives and what they chose to tolerate, as are we. We cannot, should not, MUST not try to assume for them the responsibility that is entirely and exclusively theirs. If you would speak of tolerance, know this: the most fundamental type of tolerance is the one that accepts that other people are free to do things that we do not approve of; we can object, we can hold opinions, we can evaluate the world for ourselves and make our evaluations known, very loudly if we so desire. We cannot act as if we hold a veto or a right to force other people not to do things that make us feel insecure (except in LAST resort self defense, as I stated above). We can assume complete responsibility for what we bring into the world; I hope that we do not choose destruction, evil (“necessary” or not), and puffed-up-with-hatred-and-righteous-rage force as our contribution. Not now, and not ever. We are responsible for ourselves, and no one else. And… I honestly wouldn’t take such a complaint about respect for personal sovereignty seriously from anyone who supports this war or the mentality behind it. Support for it implies support for a way of being that holds it as necessary and/or justifiable to take sovereign individuals, make them murder other sovereign individuals, and then turn some of them into bloody spots on the ground. Enough said.
Peace, love, unity, happiness, compassion, even freedom… these things don’t work very well when they are made ends by themselves, divorced from the conditions around them. When someone thinks that they can reasonably, morally, or excusably bring about the conditions that DESTROY these things, they are taking the first step in condemning us all to a world where those ideas are empty, meaningless shells. That leads me to another objection my devil’s advocate came up with (there are too many to write about all of them, sorry : ) )… “oh but Andy, what kind of twisted definition of compassion would say that we’re not obligated to help our fellow man?” I’ll tell you. It is the definition of compassion that holds freedom and liberty above everything else. “Give me liberty or give me death.” Surely you have heard that one. It is central to the idea of “America”, and to many concepts of humanity. Do you believe in it? Please note that it is not, “Give me liberty or give that guy on the other side of the world who makes me feel insecure death”. If it were, I would wonder very seriously about the character of the “liberty” and the “security” in question. Among other things, I would wonder if they were at all consistent with each other. The saying refers only to the life of the person who would claim liberty. Liberty, at its base, includes the fact that no part of my life is owed to anyone else; no one can say how it will be lived (or not) but me. By the same token, I do not own any part of any other person’s life. THAT is the largest single deed of compassion I can do for them; their life is theirs, and not a bit mine. I can try to convince them of things, but at the end of the day I have no right to force anything on anyone.
Does any of that mean that we should not do things to help our fellow men and women? Good lord, CERTAINLY not! It means that anything we do to help them will be done not out of obligation, coercion or guilt, but out of genuine care for them, and out of a decision made freely, which means that there was full freedom NOT to make it. It also means that we can only volunteer OUR lives and OUR resources to help them, and when we do so we must respect, absolutely, their right to accept or refuse. We cannot speak for the lives of others. We cannot sacrifice their lives, or decide how, when or where they are to be lived or ended. We most certainly cannot volunteer the resources and/or lives of millions for some crusade we feel is just oh so super-righteous. The above are necessary conditions of any meaningful kind of freedom or equality. I am not talking about some far off goal or rule that we can violate now and hold off on until later, when we feel a bit more comfy and we’ve eliminated whoever it is we’ve been trained to hate this week. It is a fundamental tenet of freedom that we must respect, without exception, NOW, or we have no business saying that we value “freedom”. If we believe in it, we will respect it, even at risk to ourselves (yes, it is necessary to value freedom THAT much if it is to be had at all). If we don’t respect it, and if we fail to treat it as our highest value, then any belief in “freedom” we claim to have is empty. If we think it will tolerate inconsistencies, we are banishing it to the realm of a dream and a forgotten future, and we will always be saying we will get to it and be true to it TOMORROW, next year, after another decade or two more of war, whatever. To try to turn “compassion” into anything else is a recipe for hatred. Truly free people (and many others) do not take kindly to assertions that their lives belong, in even the smallest part, for any reason, to another. That is very much as it should be. The point here is very simple. Compassion is good. It is a very important means to making a better world. Compassion, when used to try to justify war or to compel people to accept an evil as necessary (or to COMPEL them to do anything), is a perversion that has no place in this world.
You are grateful to your COUNTRY and your GOVERNMENT that you are relatively free? You think you owe your freedom to them? Then your “freedom” is as good as dead, and I’ll say nothing of the world you are creating for your children. No amount of military force can or will ever take it away from you unless you let it die, and no amount of military force will bring it back if, heaven forbid, you ever decide to give up your own absolute responsibility for it. If you think that is just a cliché, that they CANNOT take your freedom away from you by force, then I feel very sorry for you. For god’s sake, if being grateful is so important to you, be grateful for what is REALLY special about America (I HOPE)! Be grateful for the fact that, if our government told us to do something that was against our conscience, we would resist it with our lives. Be grateful that we know very well that “evil” is not necessary, and that acting as if it is opens the way to all imaginable horrors. Every last one of us is at least capable of understanding that, I hope, though I seriously wonder when I see what is going on these days. Okay, pop quiz: HOW MANY of the 9-11 hijackers were from Iraq? Does it matter? A majority of the people in this country don’t seem to be clear on the answer to that question. And WHOT!? Mepons of m-m-mass distrinction? Didn’t quite catch that Dick. “We be so sure they got um, I even know where they is!” Sure, fine. Super. Someone, please promise to poke me if I ever trust a politician, mmm’kay? When I see people shrugging at the fact that this god damned insane war was based on pure lies, I think that America is becoming something I wouldn’t respect if my life depended on it. I don’t think it has become that yet, mind you. “Becoming” is the operative word, and I hope we can keep it that way, and even that we can reverse it. That hope is the reason I bother to say any of this.
If you’ve read all of that, thanks : ) .