Actually folks, with school now out and with my mind sort of chilled as I prepare to visit Kenya next week, I’m not feeling so motivated to theorize about the deeper questions of the meaning of life further this week. So for this week’s entry I’m just going to let myself ramble a bit… about what for me are some of the more obvious facets of life in the interconnected world we live in that the people of my native land still don’t seem to get. If anyone wants to argue these points in greater depth I’m up for it, but for now I’m just going to spout a bit off the top of my head, or out the other end of my anatomical core, like a regular blogging pundit. Take it for what it’s worth.
The big name in the news so far this month has been Bowe Bergdahl. Thanks to President Obama’s solo efforts against popular whims of Congress or his own party even, Bowe is coming home from being a POW in Afghanistan, at least physically. His parents have now appeared on international television with the president, showing in the process that they cared about and respected their son more than their country. If that didn’t raise enough animosity, reports after the fact indicate that Bowe had more than a few loose screws before he was deployed to Afghanistan, that he either defiantly or deliriously he managed to wander off base and get himself captured. From there commands from the geniuses who put him there to begin with ordered the unit he wandered away from to go out and find him, which may have caused a few extra combat deaths in the process.
To top all this off there is plenty of grumbling to go around about what may have been given in return for this soldier, who some are now implying wasn’t really worth getting back. The Taliban got at least 5 combatants from Guantanamo in exchange, and there’s plenty of speculation as to what else in terms of monetary rewards and/or propaganda points they got besides. For those whose political interests are limited to looking for ways to discredit the president, and ways to rally people together around a hatred for Muslims, this is a golden opportunity. If such pundits are showing any restraint it is only to create an illusion of rational strategic thinking in terms of not over-playing their hand, but I haven’t noticed them showing much restraint. From their perspective the main issues are that Obama has once again shown more interest in helping the enemy than supporting the military pride of the nation, bypassing political debates in doing so, all in the interest of getting back a soldier who may well be a criminal anyway.
The most obvious question to ask from my perspective is why was this fellow over there to begin with? There are a number of levels on which this needs to be answered: Why is the US still involved in combat operations against a country which we originally attacked because they were harboring the (now dead) head of a terrorist organization over a decade ago? What rational objectives are there for the military to achieve there still, and at what expense? Is the US still continuing to make new enemies in that part of the world faster than they can kill off the old ones? Then who’s in charge of quality control in terms of what sort of men get shipped over there as 21st century cannon fodder? Who is supposed to be evaluating which ones might be more of a risk to themselves and those around them there than they would be a help in achieving whatever the hell we’re trying to achieve there?
The next big question is one that has been weighing heavily on President Obama’s mind for over 6 years already: What are we supposed to do with all those prisoners we’ve got stuck in that little piece of Cuba still controlled by the US? Giving them fair trials under due process of law at this point is a logistical impossibility; the GWB team screwed that pooch a long time ago. So do we continue to house and feed and torture these men at the sort of taxpayer expense that could put 10 kids through college to each one detained until they all die of old age 50 years from now? Do we invent some excuse for killing them off earlier than that? Is there honestly any way at this point to convince them that Americans aren’t really such bad folks after all, and then let them go as rehabilitated people? Or do we use whatever excuse we can find to release as many of them as possible within the coming years, regardless of how much they are hated by the more Islamophobic sector of the American electorate?
The next question is, what new forms of danger might this deal expose US troops in the Middle East to? Will the enemy now be looking more carefully for the sort of soldiers that happen to deliriously wander off base, knowing that they could turn out to be worth something? (But again, what would such men be doing there in the first place?) Will the Taliban shift their tactics from improvised explosive devices to ambushes aiming to take more Americans alive (and would that be such a bad thing)? Will the hatred for Americans in war zones be increased by the enemies knowing that prisoners could be strategically worth taking? Will some Afghanis who were indifferent towards the American military presence in their country before now be shaken out of their complacency by this deal so that they work harder on attacking Yankees? Or is there something about getting a soldier back that might encourage other soldiers with loose screws to wander off more freely, believing that their unit will have to rescue them anyway? Or might this demoralize the commanders who should be attending to the preparedness level of those under their command, leading to them making more dumb mistakes that get more soldiers killed, because the government cut a deal with the enemy to get back this one they didn’t happen to like so much?
Carefully considered answers to those questions would be deeply appreciated, but they are not really expected. Overall it seems that when it comes to constructive and solution-oriented thinking about such matters, the Republicans just have the wrong sort of dogs. The only kinds of dogs they seem to have, in terms of their media allies, are guard dogs and attack dogs: bred to intimidate and cause a maximum amount of pain to those perceived to be a threat, and make a helluva lot of noise in the meantime. I don’t want to go into specifics of comparing particular media corporations to particular breeds of dogs because I respect all breeds of dogs too much to insult any of them by comparison with Rupert Murdock’s minions, but you get the point.
What I will say, however, is that the kind of media the US needs in order to improve the function of the political process would not be attack dogs, but something more comparable to bird dogs: spaniels, setters, retrievers and the like. Such dogs will bark if they feel they have something important to say, but generally speaking they are bred for an ability to remain quiet under normal circumstances, and even under stress; quietly sneak up on birds and point them out to the hunter, and then stay put and not freak out even when there is gunfire next to them. These qualities, together with a heightened impulse to communicate with their humans, make such dogs the ideal choice also as seeing-eye-dogs and service dogs in general.
That’s what I believe news outlets and bloggers should ideally be doing as participants in the political process –– at least if they are to play a useful role in enabling voters to make intelligent, informed decisions: They should be pointing out potential prey to the voters –– food to be shared –– opportunities to improve the sorry state of society; not just bitching about those they don’t like.
Now it could be said that my statements here are just the equivalent of a smaller dog growling at a larger dog in a territorial sort of way; and that when it comes to serious dog fights we Retrievers, Setters and Spaniels will always be at a disadvantage compared to the Pit Bulls, Rottweilers and Dobermanns on the other side. Perhaps. And if the point of politics for you is to watch a fight purely for its entertainment value, trying to pick and root for the tougher combatant, I can understand how Fox News would appeal to your mindset.
I would encourage all of my US Republican friends, however, not to fall into such a trap. Rather than taking the political process as a gladiatorial distraction from everyday life, take it as a potential means of improving everyday life by bringing people together in something resembling a spirit of mutual respect. I realize that respectful politics is a major oxymoron, but for things to get better for any of us in terms of our children’s future safety, and for the reduction of needless tragic suffering in the world, we have to start seeing each other less as lethal opponents and more as potential partners in improving things. We don’t need more excuses for hating each other; we need causes for which we can come together and work as a team.
Humans in general and Americans in particular have a rather poor track record when it comes to building solidarity on the basis of something other than a common human enemy. It is no surprise that when it comes to raw efficiency in motivating cooperation, perhaps the most efficient period of political action that any human society has ever seen was Nazi Germany –– everyone in the social mainstream joining forces in attacking those among them, and those abroad, who were seen as a threat to the grand and glorious Arian identity.
It would be nice to think that humanity has learned something from the scale of mistake that turned out to be, but that doesn’t really appear to be the case; the only significant sources of solidarity we find working in the world today are based on hatemongering against particular sets of “others” that everyone can join in hating. In order not to give up on the idea of a future for my children and potential grandchildren, however, I have to believe we can do better than that.
Historically perhaps the best examples of such solidarity have been in times of recovery from natural and man-made disasters, when rather than facing eradication as the results of their own over-extension and poor judgment (as has so often happened in the course of human history) given societies have recognized the sorts of crises they were in and come together to do something about them. These have never been particularly lasting or monumental in terms of major empires arising from them, but there have been periods of peace and prosperity in the sense of people sustainably helping each other out and building a workable vision for the future together at such times. Which ones dare I mention even?
– Irish society (at least compared with the rest of Europe) in the end of the first millennium
– The period of cooperation between European settlers and Native Americans following the first Thanksgiving
– FDR’s “New Deal” program following the Great Depression
– The former Axis Powers under the Marshall Plan…
Yes, I recognize the human limitations and significant problems seen in all of these examples, but they at least show that once in a great while people can be motivated to work together by something other than hatred for someone they see as worse than those next to them.
God knows there are plenty of problems that we can come together to confront other than the human groups we are being told to demonize:
– Safe and reliable fresh water supplies for major population groups
– Basic nutrition (without causing obesity risks) for young people in particular
– Eliminating carcinogens from the air and other aspects of our environments
– Reducing imbalances between consumption and replacement processes that keep destroying particular environments and species
– Reducing the harm we do to our environment and each other with our solid, liquid and gaseous waste products
– Further preventing deaths from preventable diseases
– Preventing any people, children in particular, from being treated as disposable sources of service or amusement, particularly sexually.
The arguments we hear against focusing our energies on dealing with these sorts of issues, as compared with more traditionally appealing political initiatives –– like trying to police the rest of the world, invading potential oil producing areas, blasting sections of the earth apart to extract anything burnable from under its surface, and creating more intense forms of amusement for ourselves –– are that maybe certain people don’t deserve to have safe and dignified lives; and we can’t reliably limit the damage that others are doing, so why limit the damage we ourselves are causing?
Really? Stop and think about those arguments for a moment. Take just the last example: Is it OK to rape children and/or use them as slaves because if they had better parents they wouldn’t be in their predicament to begin with, and if you don’t abuse them someone else will?! If those arguments don’t work to justify participating in and/or turning a blind eye to slavery and human trafficking for such purposes, nor do they work for participating in or turning a blind eye to environmental destruction and basic health and safety issues effecting massive numbers of people.
From there I encourage you to stop and think about how many political initiatives you are being asked to support –– or you are being manipulated into supporting –– are based on coming together to confront the sort of challenges that we need to confront together, and how many are providing excuses for hating other people, ignoring their needs and blaming them for their own problems.
From there you can decide what sort of “dogs” you really want, and what you should be training them to do for you.
Enough for now.