Sunday, June 26, 2005

It's Not Who I Am Underneath, But What I Do, That Defines Me

Okay, so, I went off the other day. Big time. Offended several friends. Got some people who told me privately I went too far. One or two said so publicly. So, first things first.

I retract nothing.

Not one goddamn word.

If anything, I didn't go far enough.

That's what this post is about.

But not how you think.

See, what I said was the truth. If you support, defend, or explain away the works of evil men, you are yourself evil.

But I do realize that there are a whole lot of people out there who not only believe that George W. Bush is not evil, but that his political opponents are. And, therefore, they believe that, at the very least, they themselves are not evil.

I'll accept that. Up to a point. There are, however, a few things to consider.

What do you really think of as good and evil?

I'm talkin' the real deal here. Was Bill Clinton evil because he lied about an extramarital affair? Was Ken Starr evil because he spent $70 million investigating that affair and other accusations against the Clintons? Were Newt Gingrich and Henry Hyde evil for going after Clinton for his extramarital affair? How about when it turned out they'd both had affairs as well? Was Michael Schiavo evil because he wanted to let his wife die? Were her parents evil because they wanted her to live? Were George W. Bush, Jeb Bush, Bill Frist, and Randall Terry evil for getting involved?

Is Michael Jackson evil?

Is Hillary Clinton evil?

Is Jerry Falwell evil?

Is Michael Moore evil?

Is same-sex marriage evil?

Is pre-marital heterosexual sex evil?

Is sex education involving anything besides abstinence evil?

Is going to war evil?

Is lying about the reasons to go to war evil?

We could go on like this for awhile. But my point is not that You Are Evil, or There Is Evil, or There Is Moral Relativism, or anything like that -- my point is that there are two kinds of people in the world.

There are people who, when confronted with something that might be evil, take a moment, or a lifetime, and think about it.

And there are people who don't.

We are all both kinds of people at different times. What separates us are our personal templates for good and evil.

Here are two examples:

When I was younger, I shoplifted some books from a local drug store. Several books, one at a time, over a summer. I didn't have much cash, and I wanted the books, and I was petrified of what it would do to my mom if I was caught. But I wasn't caught, and it became easier after awhile. And then it became less easy, because the fear knotted up in my gut -- and the wild part was how it mutated: It ceased being fear that I would get caught, and became fear that I was becoming a thief by nature. And so I stopped doing it, and later sent an anonymous money order to the store to pay for the books I'd stolen.

During that same period, I was frequently hired as a babysitter for the families along our street. One family across the street had two kids, ages 4 and 2, I think, adorable. Loved 'em. Well, one day, my mom and the parents of that family asked to talk with me. Seems the little girl had indicated that I might've touched her in a bad way. I was absolutely stunned, horrified, and I think my instant, fervent denial and the look on my face must've been what convinced 'em more than anything. (Turned out there was another person in the mix, who looked somewhat similar to me, and apparently the very young girl had gotten us confused.)

In the first case, did I perform an act of evil? Yes, I did. I stole, knowingly and deliberately, and for awhile I justified it by my relative lack of spending money and I prided myself on my Artful Dodging. The act was wrong, I was wrong, and if I'd been caught I would've deserved whatever punishment I received. When I stopped, I made amends -- anonymously, because I wasn't brave enough to face the heat, but I did do it, and I stopped stealing. I was evil, but I was able to see it, and to change.

In the second case, I was suddenly smacked in the face with an accusation that left me sick and shaking. Devastated by the possibility that these nice neighbors, these people who I liked and whose kids I loved, that my mom, could possibly believe that of me, even for a moment. I knew evil, and it wasn't me.

Now, let's get back to the present day.

There are four overarching political philosophies in the United States: liberalism, libertarianism, conservatism, and neoconservatism. There are many volumes describing each of them, and to distill them to a single phrase seems almost insulting -- but you can do it reasonably, I think:

Liberalism believes that people need protection, government should do a lot of it, and that taxes are necessary to pay for it.
Conservatism believes that people can take care of their own interests, government should do very little, and that taxes are stealing money from people who've earned it.
Libertarianism believes that people need some protection, government should do little besides the essentials, and that taxes are stealing money from people who've earned it.
Neo-conservatism believes that...

And here we get to the kicker. What do neo-conservatives believe? It's a little muddy. But they currently control the US government.

Remember when George W. Bush came into office? He said two things which have stuck with me. (Well, okay, he said several things which have stuck with me, such as, he hoped to reduce our dependence on foreign oil by working with Mexico, and Al Gore was treating Social Security like some kinda federal program).

He said he was a uniter, not a divider.

He said that the US was not in the business of nation-building.

Now, please, seriously -- those of you who support the Bush administration: What has happened in our country and in the world since then?

Did you sign on for endless war in Iraq? Because that's what we seem to have. We also have it in Afghanistan. Meanwhile, Iran and North Korea are getting into the nuclear weapon business.

Is it okay to torture human beings? Which human beings, under what circumstances?

Should Americans be above international law, simply because they're Americans? If so, why is that fair?

How do you feel about religious morality being legislated? In clinics, hospitals, science classes, pharmacies?

How about tax cuts? Are you getting enough? Too little? Too much?

How's your job security doing?

Do you feel threatened by gays getting married? If so, why?

Are you liberal, conservative, libertarian, or something else? And what do you think of those not in your category, and why do you think that?

For a long time now, our country has had its squabbles, its dividers, its political street fights. Thing is, up to a certain point, there was never any question that, even though both sides vehemently disagreed, we were in fact all on the same team, that being America.

That assumption is now called into question on a daily basis.

After a lot of thought on some of these matters, and no thought needed at all for others, here's some of what I believe.

I believe it was wrong to invade Iraq -- militarily, politically, legally, economically. The bad guys weren't in Iraq, they were in Afghanistan, and we put the brakes on our attacks there to go after Saddam Hussein and his oil.

I believe many of our leaders have become way more interested in money and power and privilege than in serving the country, and more than a few of them have crossed the line into criminality to do so.

I believe that many of those leaders believe that, by virtue of their being rich to begin with, they are entitled to more money and power and privilege than the rest of us, and they will stop at nothing to take as much as they can.

I believe that many of them were once good men, whose greed and narrow view of politics has blinded them to what they are doing. I even believe that many of them still think they are doing good, although with a drastically different set of goals and expectations in mind.

I believe that those goals and expectations are based on an absolute best-case scenario that simply does not play out in the real world, and they don't see that, or want to see that, no matter how many times and how much evidence to the contrary is put in front of them.

I believe that there are those who, in pursuit of money and power and privilege, use people's faith to steer them into directions, thoughts, and actions which the people could figure out for themselves are wrong, if only they were given the opportunity -- but that opportunity never comes, because the drumbeat of the stereotypes, of baby killer and faggot and flag burner and welfare mother and so many others, drowns out rational thought.

I believe that many of those leaders could, under some circumstances, see what they are doing to the rest of us, and possibly change their minds. I also believe that some of them will not want to.

And I believe that the American people -- all the American people -- are much more capable of taking charge of their own moral compasses than the above-mentioned leaders want to allow.

If you were offended by my rant the other day, well, I'm not sorry. I mean, I'm sorry your feelings were hurt, but, dammit, it was intended to be a shot to the chops. Tough love, if you like, because I love my conservative and Republican friends. It just happens that I think they're defending the wrong people, and the wrong policies. And I think that we have to get back to a point where we're all on the same track -- where we're all Americans again. Our country is in a dark time, one in which the very nature of America is being questioned.

It shouldn't have to be. America is the best example in the history of civilization that people can rule themselves, and that freedom makes a country stronger, and that everyone's lives can be better without stifling the ability of people to get rich.

But something has gone awry. No matter which side you are on politically, there is a sizable percentage of the population that thinks you are wrong, and in fact fatally, evilly wrong, because of your support of one policy or another, one set of policies or another, one philosophy or another.

All I ask is that you think about it. All I ask is that you ask yourself why.

Why do you support the people and policies you support? Are you in complete agreement with them? Are you making moral or ethical trade-offs? Are you okay with that? Be as brutally honest as you can be -- it's you questioning yourself, and no one else needs to know.

But you've got to live with it.

I started this off with a quote from Batman Begins. I'd like to end it with another one, said both by Thomas Wayne (Bruce's father) and by Alfred:
Why do we fall, sir? So that we might better learn to pick ourselves up.

Wow! Filkertom, that was as brilliant and stunning analysis of that the hell is going on as I've ever seen.

You nailed it. I stand in awe.
Sigh. Can't argue with any of that, and I still don't know how conservatives justify this shit to themselves.

Do they really believe all the stuff they're fed, or do they just pretend to because the Republicans scratch some dark itch (I don't wanna pay taxes! Kill the brown people! God hates fags!).

I know a couple of very nice people at work who are very conservative (one of whom really hates war, too), and they seem to have bought into it completely (one of them was griping about credit card deadbeats, f'rinstance).

So I think it's some kind of Plato's Republic thing, where the people at the higher levels know the truth, that their policies are good for *them* but bad for America, and they just pass lies down to the ignorant masses.
Friends don't let friends justify torture.

If they can't handle that, fuck 'em - they ain't your friends. And you can bet they'll be the first one to rat you out when the Gestapo comes a-callin'...
Right on the money ... I am tired of hearing them preach, while the steal people blind ... they wanted this war ... no matter the cost ... they live for power and money ...
Hard questions, some with simple answers.

I thought libertarians believed that people should protect themselves by any means available, government should go into its house, lock the door and never come out or, you know, talk too loud, and taxes were whatever you could manage to strongarm out of the next guy. I've obviously been reading the wrong books, or listening to the wrong songs...anyway, that's why I've never been too keen on libertarianism as a philosophy. Have I been mistaken all this time?

These things should be saved up till (please gods) somebody gets Bush out of power and he goes on the celebrity-golf/chatshow circuit as a revered ex-President. Which, if the country doesn't go down in blood and fire, he will. And then they should be published absolutely everywhere, including milk cartons, lamp-posts, neckties, samplers and stained glass windows, and he should be questioned about them every single day. And somebody should be putting them where our smarmy, hypocritical, two-faced, *terrified* excuse for a Prime Minister can not avoid seeing them, because he should not escape the just reward for his complicity.

You're not wrong, Zander, but the trick is the aspect of libertarianism wherein they are in fact concerned about personal liberties. For those to be protected, you need some government. Period. I suppose you're correct on another level -- the ideal libertarian circumstance might indeed be boiled down to Every Man For Himself -- but, given how social a creature humanity is, that's simply not possible. Therefore, government. Even if it's Big Man Of The Small Tribe government, or a tribal council, there will be something.
I think we should sell the idea of Sudan and Afghanistan (outside of Kabul) as libertarian paradises, and encourage them all to go over there, where their hypercapable self-reliance and entrepreneurial ambition will enable them to quickly rise to the top of the warlord pecking order and they can live like kings.
I couldn't agree more. And let's not forget that dreadful Patriot Act.
"Evil is a point of view."
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