This is where the Backer of Podunk Tavern gets to editorialize on topics of his choice. Tavern patrons are encouraged to have an open mind, but not so much so that their brains fall out. Latest Fare 28Dec2010Tavern Entrance Thoughts du Jour Local Lore Biased Reviews Filtered Brews
|Burning Korans||- Two Aspects to Consider|
|A Systems Approach||- Foundations of Perspective|
|Secrets||- We have a right to and a need for Secrets|
|The Dangers of Mistrust||- "One Person One Vote" vs "Every One's an Expert"|
|Political Accountability||- Who got us Where at What Cost?|
|Congressional Leaders||- The principal of "Checks and Balances" abandoned|
|Wartime Support||- Distinguishing support for the Troops vs the War|
|Cancers in Humanity||- Extremism is a Cancer in the Human Super-Organism|
|Necessary, Prudent, Crucial||- Respond, Review, Revere|
|Nuclear Energy||- Past the Emotion, the REAL Danger is squandering it.|
|Individual Privacy||- Why shouldn't Everyone be entitled to it?|
In America, is there any religious afront that we would consider grounds for killing someone over? I believe and trust that the answer by all but the smallest extreme minority of our country would be an unequivical NO.
It is difficult to even imagine a culture so different (from ours) that the majority of members would be so committed to their religious beliefs that even the burning of the words that conveyed it would be immediately recognized and accepted as a capital offense.
This is the culture of Afghanistan, and in fact of many eastern countries, and of at least a major fraction of human beings on this planet. Hopefully, it makes us who live in cultures with fewer life threatening philosophical imperatives appreciate our freedoms even more, knowing that they are not universally enjoyed.
The two understandings enforced by this incident are that we must be aware that ignoring these differences can be catastrophic to our goals and intentions when we're operating outside of our own cultural envrironment, and that we should be wary of going down the same path.
I hear in our news that some of us are indignant that our ultimately "good intentions" are so unappreciated by the Afghan people and that they should apologize to us for the casualties we've suffered over this incident. I've even heard some trying to justify the burning as a well intentioned disposal of desecrated holy objects in a way that we thought was correct. At best this exposes our ignorance of the culture we've imposed ourselves on (the right or wrongness of the imposition is another debateable question) and at worst shows us as defensive, shallow, arrogant, incompetent and even dishonest.
While I believe that we have accomplished some worthy things in Afghanistan, including the improvement of the deplorable lack of human rights, particularly for women, and the elimination of a base and resources for Al Quada, but if we have any hope of these achievements being more than temporary we need the buy-in of a critical mass of the Afghani people. We will not get this buy-in if we underestimate, ignore or worst case trample on fundamental beliefs that they are committed to.
The tough part apparently for many Americans is appreciating that the "appalling" behavior of the Afghan people cannot be usefully judged or understood from our own perspectives and that achievable "success" must be defined differently relative to different time frames. What's achievable in 2-5 years is not what seems to be the popular American expectation. To think that what are "obvious superiorities" of our culture are universally recognized, understood and appreciated by every other culture regardless of their own well established foundations and beliefs is naive. Humans develope their own ways of living with their situations and once established don't lightly change them. We all make our decisions with a large influence from what we "know", and we obviously don't all "know" the same things.
The second and probably even more important consideration for America, especially in the current environment of presidential election politics, is the mix of religion and government. While individuals can be committed to their religious beliefs (I know some radical aetheists who are as intolerant of other religions as our most fervent conventional believers), no specific religion should be imposed on anyone ... and injecting any religion's foundations into govenrment seems to be a path more towards the Afghan cultural model (where the religious ideas dominate all individuals and government must accommodate that dominance) than away from it.
This is an example to me of the extremes that the unquestioned acceptance of values, rules, and behaviours enshrined in religious (or any other) historical source can result in. To me it is an example of the consequence of arrested evolution of ideas ... a prevention of the mechanisms that allows a continuing adaptation to achieve a necessary balance between the sanctity of the individual and the necessary cooperation that we need to survive in the always changing world/life systems that we exist in.
I know too many people that I consider intelligent and that don't agree with me on many points, to believe that seeing things the way I do is an intelligence criteria. My experience has convinced me that once people conclude that their picture of the way things work is obviously true, then they become unable and unwilling to even consider a different perspective. Like you, I like to believe that I think for myself. The things that I'm willing to support have to be based on a consistent set of underlying and related "facts". But as long as I see inconsistencies in the "facts" that I'm exposed to, the "facts" that I've accepted as well as the "facts" that others imply that they've accepted, then I have to conclude that I don't yet have an accurate (or at least consistent) let alone complete understanding of the subject. This is what motivates my approach of trying to explore multiple sides of issues, NOT a contrarian stance just for the purpose of igniting a debate for the sake of having a debate.
My experience has led me to believe in the usefulness of viewing all but the simplest relationships as complex systems, with rich and frequently not intuitive dynamics. I view the human species and in fact all life and all existence this way. In this sense, I see civilization as a very complex system composed of 6 billion primary entities (individuals) who are each part of multiple larger organizational entities (including families, tribes, ethnicities, unions, philosophies, towns, states, countries, schools, teams, religions, professions, companies, governments, etc.), and each of these entities has evolving communication channels between subsets of all the other entities. At least by virtue of the self awareness of the 6 billion primary entities, this complex system is driven by not only physical elements of our world but also by conscious forces represented by individual and group alliances. Every complex system I've attempted to understand that has an evolutionary nature (as opposed to simply a changing nature) seems to have an organizational aspect to it. In my view of things, all of the non-primary entities referred to above are different organizational mechanisms that turn the chaos of 6 billion uncoordinated individuals into a functioning, sustainable, and evolving civilization (and if you look at the cells that comprise each individual, they followed a similar path of evolving organizational mechanisms).
The point of all this is to argue that many of the organized entities that you and others see as inherently bad for the whole, I see as necessary organs for the whole's function. I would certainly agree that some of these organs malfunction and that based on conscious intention, better ways to provide a particular organ's function can be devised, but the changes should be evolutionary instead of revolutionary. For instance, I don't agree that you can simply eliminate the banking organ. I would agree that if you can muster a sufficient consensus then you can regulate it to prevent the malfunctions and/or excesses, and even steer it into eventually different forms. The problem with changing a complex system like civilization is that you can't stop it while you re-engineer a change and then start it up again with the new part ... any changes have to be implementable while the whole system continues on.
Government in my view is also a civilizational organ. It provides stability, direction and consistency of purpose to the otherwise chaotic efforts of it's divergent constituency (the citizens). Government formalizes and enforces the rules that all of the entities of the super organism operates by, it can reflect the consensus views of the individuals that it governs or not but I believe that in some form or another a governing function is absolutely necessary for large super organisms to survive over time.
My own experience tells me that every individual is motivated by what they believe is in their own self-interest. Obviously, we all have our own perception of what our individual self interest is and one person's pursuit of what they want can absolutely conflict with what someone else wants. A very early animal organization was of pairs of people allied long enough to produce offspring and nuture them to a point of being able to exist on their own. This primitive organization is characterized by individuals and families competing with each other for available resources of food and territory with no regard for any aspect of another competitors existence ... we were all competing just to stay alive individually. Such a system has natural limits to it's scale. As the benefits of collaboration were discovered, organizational rules evolved. Standards for interaction, agreed responsibilities, and cooperative behavior all enabled the "instinctive paranoia of difference" to be controlled by the greater benefits of grouping. And this paradigm was repeated over and over again with increasing numbers and types of groupings, developing more and more complex interconnections and more and more specialized functions. The acceptable range of individual and group behavior shrank based not only on the suppression of disruptive effects on the desireable "guarantees" of the whole, but frequently based on fresh manifestations of the primal "difference" instinct that still plays a dangerous role today.
So with this background context within which I've chosen to view things, I hear you condemning what I consider necessary organs (the financial system and/or banks) in the larger system that we exist in. I don't agree with you that these organs in themselves are an evil that must be eliminated, or that greed and selfishness are unnecessary abhorrent characteristics of human nature. I think that the financial system is underregulated relative to the principals of fairness that we hopefully more readily agree on, and I think that greed and selfishness are terms with negative connotations for intrinsic characteristics of life that must be accommodated and benefitted from in successful civilizations. I also don't share your pessimistic view of humanity. I agree that we constantly face threats to our stability and that the problems that we face are more and more related to our own actions but I also believe that what we are seeing is an acceleration of the speed of evolution with the selective pressures developing and acting more quickly and the corresponding adaptive mechanisms being elevated to the realm of scientific methods rather than genetic mutation. Life has always had this character and I see no reason for it to necessarily stop anytime soon. Extra-terrestrial observers at any point in time of lifes evolution could probably have made reasonable bets as to the survival of any particular current life form, and yet more complex life continues to evolve, and in this sense I consider civilization as part of the continuum of life.
Finally, you should know that I respect and love you too, but it does diminish my joy to see you not able to be more happy in the one life experience that our similar philosophies tell us we have. None of us know where any of this is heading and unfortunately we will not be around to ultimately conclude the correctness of our predictions. Our efforts to effect the future should make us proud not depressed and the compensation for honoring our perceived sense of responsibility should be satisfaction not misery. Whether or not you change the world, you're making an effort to spread what you believe in ... an admirable behavior. But an inability to accept that other intelligent people might not agree with our passions, our conclusions, and our preferred course of action on large scales, isolates us from the fuller relationships on the individual scale that are necessary to make it all work.
Regarding the Wikileaks public disclosure of "sensitive" US diplomatic communications, the countries critical of the US reaction against this disclosure should consider voluntarily releasing for international consumption their own diplomatic secrets.
It seems delusionally ideal to believe that secure confidential interaction between individuals and between governments is not a necessary element of effective relationships. One should reflect on their own set of personal relationships and the range of impressions, opinions, observations, and criticisms that are shared and or explored with different confidants with the expectation that the comments will not be universally shared ... and then reflect on the consequences to to all of these relationships if everything said in each individual one is shared verbatim with all the others.
The less candid a person is comfortable being in a conversation, the less accurately the underlying subtleties of their positions, motivations, concerns, and bias are conveyed. The casualties are both the quality of understanding and the health of trust. This remains as true in relationships between individuals representing themselves as it is in relationships between individuals representing different organizations, ranging in size from families to nations.
There are at least several aspects of the current Wikileaks situation.
One aspect is the breakdown in protecting the sensitive information, preventing it from getting out of your control in the first place. This aspect addresses the issue of how you select the individuals who have access to your sensitive information and the mechanisms that store the information and monitor its access. The US has obviously got much work to do at this level.
Another aspect is the question of what is justifiable action in trying to recover from a failure to contain sensitive information within it's primary perimeter. The notion is flawed that once the information is outside the protective perimeter then it should be freely accessible to anyone. The reason for protecting the information in the first place does not go away if the information breaches the protective perimeter, and any legal action to prevent broader disclosure is warranted and should not be confused as inconsistent with the principles of "freedom of information" and "freedom of speech".
A third aspect is what responsibility should individuals and larger entities have in voluntarily supporting the containment of "sensitive" information once it has escaped it's protective perimeter. The answer here depends on what the individual or broader entity perceives as the relative values to them of either protecting the privacy of the information or of broadly disclosing it. If you accept the position that some "secrets" are necessary to the effective functioning of systems with multiple complex relationships then you should at least recognize that some harm could be done by exposing some secret or "sensitive" information and weigh this against what "good" you believe the disclosure accomplishes. If the main "good" is in only gaining notoriety and/or gaining financially, then the disclosure does not seem morally justified against the broader harm of (in the Wikileaks case) adversely affecting international relations. If the main "good" of disclosure is perceived to support a philosophical ideal whose validity and majority acceptance are debatable, then the motive is maybe less questionable, but the broader adverse consequences remain.
A major casualty of the growing distrust we have for our instituions is the declining credibility of Science as a source of understanding and of strategies for dealing with the physical problems that our civilization faces. Much (if not all) of the problem is scale, not only of the problems themselves but also of the scientific system itself that develops the understanding of it.
On the problem side, dealing with things up to the size of bridges, ships, even skyscrapers, seems to be within our intuitive comfort zone, but take larger things like weather, atmosphere, oceans, land masses, etc, with time scales of reaction measured in years or longer, and our faith in the ability of science to understand it plummets. We look much harder for dissenters, and weight their minority opinions disproportionately, clinging to reasons to not believe the consensus of the scientific majority. We resist making long term decisions, being much more comfortable (conditioned) to dealing with systems that can exhibit much shorter term reactions.
Regarding the scale of the scientific system itself, its probably related to the same dynamics that has eroded our trust in government, business, and even religion, to the point that we question everything, we are drawn to passionate simple solutions, and we demand that our simple understanding be the basis of action, whether it's consistent with the accepted science or not. We seem to readily believe that every one of our institutions are corrupt, biased, and self-serving, with their own selfish interests put well ahead of our collective interests (whatever they may be).
The end of effective democracy may come when the problems faced by a sufficiently large population cannot be successfully addressed by a citizenry that cannot muster enough confidence in its experts and in its representatives, but instead delude themselves into believing that they can be experts on every issue and consequently force poorly informed decisions. The poorly informed decisions result in future conditions that make them vulnerable to their competitors, those that are able to formulate and commit to sounder longterm actions.
Eventually we must hold accountable the leadership that "led" us from where we were to where we are.
We have a tendency to forgive or forget bad judgment and destructive leadership if the obvious and painful symptoms that it led to are sufficiently reduced. We stalwartly adjust to the longer term disabilities that the flawed visions and incompetent mistakes ultimately cause and console ourselves that at least, it's finally getting better. Especially at times like this, we can easily be manipulated to not dwell in the past looking for lessons and accountability, but to just move forward with the new reality.
In the case of Iraq, if in fact the recent "surge" has brought a level of violence control that will enable a functioning government to coalesce, we should certainly be grateful that the traumatic Iraq wound may close and the immediate pain and suffering decrease, but we should not ignore the broad scarring and disfigurement that's been sustained and NOT mistake a monumental waste of lives, resources and philosophical credibility as a correct and necessary strategy that only needed blind commitment and perseverance to be successful.
Consider what is likely to result from the course that we've been "led" on. If in fact a majority rule democracy is enabled in a unified Iraq, then given that the vast majority of Iraqi's are Shiite Muslims, why would we expect that a leadership aligned with Shiite values would not be elected ... and why expect that a Shiite oriented government would not naturally be close to its Shiite neighbor Iran? Or, if Iraq becomes partitioned into three regions along Shiite, Sunni, and Kurdish lines, even if initial democratic processes are followed to choose leadership, why would we expect the citizens of these respective (purified) regions to abandon their traditional affiliations and choose instead leadership prone to being western associates?
We can probably agree that Sadam Hussein was an atrocious dictator, with no regard for what we consider basic human rights, and that given a simple choice, with no consideration of cost, of "should he stay or should he go", then the answer would be simple ... but that was hardly the simplicity of the situation. If the question had been posed "shall we spend what has so far been the magnitude of American lives, injuries, dollars, and influence on the elimination of Sadam Hussein", I can certainly say that I would not support such a proposition.
We may less easily agree that prior to the US invasion of Iraq there was no significant Al Queda influence there. However, the evidence supports the fact that Al Queda was neither supported by nor influential in Iraq under the Sadam Hussein regime. Al Queda recognized and took advantage of the opportunity created for them by the chaos and instability resulting from the US (coalition) invasion and occupation of Iraq. I doubt that Al Queda ever had the possibility of prevailing in Iraq (given the Shiite majority and the recently demonstrated Sunni resistance to Al Queda tactics) but they have certainly benefitted from the anti-American fervor they have been able to grow in the Muslim world and that they will continue to take advantage of for a long time to come. In addition, the dilution of our efforts in Afghanistan that was necessary to prosecute our Iraq mission, has allowed a resurgence of Taliban (and therefore Al Queda) influence, threatening the real progress that had been made there. Given this assessment of what our action in Iraq has accomplished relative to Al Queda (and the ambiguously named "War on Terror"), the costs already incurred have probably only bought a worsened situation relative to Al Queda strength and containment.
The point here is to remember where we started, contrast it to where we are now, compare that difference to the human, material, and strategic costs, and then decide whether the leadership and philosophy that brought us here should be applauded or purged.
Islamic Extremism is the real enemy and the need for an aggressive, focused, and sustained attack on their leadership, structure, funding, and support mechanisms is not in question. What is being questioned is the vision and effectiveness of the leadership that "led" us into this situation. In addition to the individuals of this administration, we should question the underlying assumptions they operated on regarding how the political and cultural dynamics of the world works and consequently how best to use our resources to preserve our security and influence in this world.
A trial of individuals may not be in order but one of ideas and methods certainly is, with a resulting conviction of those that reflect only primitive instincts and not more evolved intelligent and effective strategies for our security.
Our governmental system is supposed to have many leaders, NOT just the President.
EVERY congress person is supposed to be a leader, and as such has a responsibility to blend their shared sense of public values and their priviledged access to comprehensive facts, strategies and conditions to "lead" us on positions, not just follow the most loudly expressed emotions of various local and national consituencies or just timidly accept the decisions of a President.
The current President certainly exercises strong leadership (strong leadership isn't guaranteed to result in good outcomes), and in fact has established a monopoly on it, illustrating why the concept of checks and balances of power (competing leadership) is so critical to our system. It is clear that there are currently NO checks or balances to the power of the presidency, a disturbing and dangerous abdication of congressional leadership and responsibility.
The votes of ALL of our congressional "Leaders" should on any particular issue reflect what in their highly informed judgement and loyalty to concience and constituency is the best course of action to preserve our constitutional values, freedoms, and security ... not what the latest political pressure from individual or group interest dictates. As leaders, they also have the obligation to report to and educate their constituents on why they vote the way they do, especially if it seems contrary to public opinion. If we the people are wrong, our leaders should be willing to make the better informed descisions and to then educate us on why they are right.
Our elected congressional "Leaders" should be expected to have the intelligence to evaluate information that most of us can't be priviledged to and to have the strength to make difficult decisions in our best interest, knowing that if they can't justify their reasons for their positions then they will ultimately not be re-elected. Instead, we seem to be willing to reward with re-election the "leader" who merely follows our frequently uninformed emotional reactions expressed by questionable polls, special interest campaigns (both public and private), and "finger in the wind" mechanisms.
If the votes that affect the operation and directions of our country merely reflect the loudest voices, not the underlying national values, best available "facts", and reasoned "big picture" perspectives, then our congressional "Leaders" are not only NOT doing their jobs but they are doing us a great disservice.
We should all distinguish between Supporting the Troops and Supporting the War
Listening to the reaction of politicians who apparently support the war in Iraq to comments by politicians who don't, you could conclude that our men and women in the military are not aware that the war they have been committed to is controversial and that we should not be discussing it publicly because it might demoralize them to learn that their country does not unanimously support the war, nor even agree what "winning" or "losing" means.
While it may not be comforting to know that they are risking their lives for something that possibly more than half of their fellow citizens oppose, and that may ultimately turn out to be a huge mistake, they surely understand the difference between a debate about whether their leaders have made good decisions versus whether or not their country believes in and supports its military, and particularly its soldiers. It has been observed that to allow our troops to be risked and spent for what could be bad judgment or worse could be viewed as a failure to support the troops.
We the people, whose will our government should ultimately represent and reflect, maintain a solemn responsibility to constantly review and participate in the thinking and decisions that affect the well being of our country and its assets, of which the lives of all our citizens, civilians and soldiers, are the most valuable. While in any group of 300 million members there will be some ignoble positions that deserve scorn and pity, most of us have honest but differing political opinions that should be respected and considered. While we have some formal mechanisms for resolving these differences, it does not seem wise that once a decision is made there be no provision to review its wisdom, and to correct it if it is deemed wrong by the ultimate source of power in our democracy ... the people.
The debate has to take place and opinions be freely expressed, and if the new consensus is that the endeavor is now wrong (regardless of whether it was ever right) then supporting the troops would seem to involve no longer spending them on the wrong endeavor. To accuse those who question the costs of an unconvincing war of not supporting the instruments of the war is misleading and deceptive. The issue has never been support of our troops, it has always been a question of support of this war, which if wrong is wasting many vital aspects of our country including our troops as long as it's allowed to continue.
An annoying but apparently necessary reiteration: Support of the troops is NOT now nor has it EVER been the issue, the ISSUE is the WAR! If this War is wrong, then we unnecessarily waste many things, including the troops that we ALL SUPPORT.
Once a cancer has been recognized in a body, the successful strategy is to at least contain it , stop its growth, and (if possible) eliminate it. We would never intentionally undertake a treatment that would cause it to spread. We would certainly NOT aggravate vulnerable tissues in ways to make them more hospitable to a metastasizing cancer.
In the case of the super-organism of humanity with its many differentiated cultural tissue types, each with a set of potentially cancerous extremist elements, is it a sound treatment that encourages vulnerable tissue (or even relatively healthy tissue) to embrace the cancerous cells and contribute recruits to their growth?
It is Necessary to differentiate between the threat that we face and the actions that we have taken in facing it.
It is Prudent, especially in times of crises, to remember the path we followed in getting here and to constantly update the perfomance evaluations of the leadership that we follow.
It is Crucial that we honor the service of the soldiers who bear the burden of enforcing our country's policies regardless of whether or not we agree with the policy itself.
There has always been and will always be a gap between what is the public moral and what is the private behavior. Our public behavior and our private lives must necessarily be able to have divergences and virtually all of us have personal episodes not suited for public display. The public standard is an absolute necessity as the guiding principle to be pursued, but few individuals are really capable of completely and continously living up to what we collectively agree is the correct standard.
Our politicians are of the same mold as the rest of us and yet we allow ourselves to be entertained by the exposure of their private lives and condone, even encourage, the mass media to detect and reveal it. Is it necessary or wise to require any citizen in good standing to relinquish the privacy of their personal life to public scrutiny?