So for those of you who haven’t had enough politics and armchair philosophizing this month. Here is my pre-election rant. Yeah!
Insanity in individuals is something rare – but in groups, parties, nations and epochs, it is the rule.
I was in middle school when the September 11th attacks were carried out and my reaction was a little odd. I actually wasn’t surprised at all. I had lived in Colorado when the Columbine shooting happened and that did shock me, but after that, 9/11 just seemed like the same thing but on a larger scale. It seemed pretty obvious what had happened. Some guy, and his friends, in a far away country felt pushed around and ignored, so they lashed out. The weird thing to me about the way that other people reacted to the attacks, was that they would often talk about them as if they had some bearing on the goodness of humanity as a whole. Our teachers gave us an article to read that assured everyone that humans were still good. The argument it made was basically the one you hear after any such catastrophe: “Yeah, someone did bad things, but look at how many people also did good things that day (firefighters, victims, media, family, etc.) and besides humans don’t really kill each other that much relative to 500 years ago,” and they sort of make a laundry list of all the good things that happen to people and then stack it against this one tragedy and go, “See, it cancels out. We’re still the good guys,” as if we are afraid that there is someone out there watching us and keeping some kind of weird score where each incident gets some arbitrary point value and then it all gets tallied up in a context-free algorithm. I don’t think even the bible goes quite that far.
Of course, the middle-schoolers that were my classmates only cared marginally more than I did, but what we all saw clearly was that the adults were standing in front of us feeling humiliated. The teachers who gave us this article saw 9/11 as something that adults had done to the world and things wouldn’t get much better for them as our president promptly started two bloody, misguided wars over the next several months. The problem was that, caught in the questioning eyes of children, these teachers felt a pretty serious cognitive dissonance between what values that they held (and aspired to teach us) and the reality of what humans actually do to each other in the wide world. Somehow, all of these great principles that humans have been taught don’t seem to lead to the great, peaceful reality that one would hope. Even terrorists and George Bush would probably choose peace over war in an ideal situation.
The real problem that everyone faces in this life is that we don’t exist alone. Regardless of what individual choices we make we don’t really control our lives; and furthermore, what we do in groups matters more in the scope of human history than what we do individually. It takes a group of people to do this kind of thing:
and I’m not talking about just a group of terrorists. It takes a whole world political system with haves and have-nots and corruption and hate on a large scale to stir up this kind of violence. It takes the kind of society that will react with hysteria and more violence instead of sadness and humility in order to make it worthwhile to do something this screwed up. Whatever choices we make as individuals, our society does not really reflect our individual state of mind.
Ok, great – what does this mean for you? It means, stop acting on principle. It isn’t working for the most part and when it does, something or someone that doesn’t care about your principles will mess things up for you anyway. You must consider the actual consequences of an action before you decide it is a great idea. You can’t just vote for the Green Party and then complain when Romney strips away all of our environmental protections and reproductive rights. You can’t vote libertarian and then complain that poor people are starving. Your values won’t save lives, strategic thinking will.
Was hunting down Bin Laden justified? Sure, I am going to come out and say that the world did not need that person, but hunting down Bin Laden because it was “just”, was also wrong. Why was it wrong? Because it led to horrible things. 2,134 dead American Soldiers, 100,000 Iraqi Civilian Casualties and USD $4 Trillion later, Bin Laden and much of Al Qaeda is in fact dead – and almost no one is better for it.
We can’t fight every enemy, we can’t save every person. You can’t have two wars (for great justice!) and a great education system. With modern technology, you still can’t have a pro-life society and treat women and men equally. You can’t have universal healthcare and huge tax breaks for rich businessmen and ice cream for everyone. Ideally would we have all of these things? Sure, even the wars and great military power, trained and equipped to avoid killing civilians, would be great. These things would all be great if we could do them right, but that isn’t the way the world works. So, you are responsible for choosing what you value. You are responsible for making the connection between our sloppy wars and our lack of healthcare. You are responsible for escaping the delusion that you can just say yes to good things and no to bad things and somehow everything will work out for the best. Vote wisely.