Posts Tagged ‘responsibility’

Ron Paul has often been referred to as the ‘Grandfather of the Tea Party’, yet despite the demographic’s ostensible devotion to his ideals of free market and free trade, empowered local government, sustainable spending, etc, it is all too often these very same people who find fault with him, and on some of his most respectable positions. This was the case during the CNN Tea Party Debate when Ron Paul was booed by the audience over his comments regarding 9/11.

First off, I will grant that these debates are not Dr Paul’s strong point. It is unfortunate that the whole affair has been boiled down over the years into a glib exchange of rehearsed, 30-second-soundbite talking points, and especially so for him. With such unpopular and relatively complex ideas to put forth, he sometimes must resort to unintelligibly stringing together seemingly unrelated points as fast as he can in order to squeeze in the quickest possible version of what he’d like to say, abridged to the point of incoherence. In cases such as this, I can understand being baffled and more than a bit put off, and I encourage the curious to seek out his relevant statements online. More often than not he will intelligently and soundly defend positions which many unfairly write off as ‘extremist’ or ‘crazy’.

This, however, is no case of Dr Paul trying to say too much with too little. In this case he is saying something very simple and straightforward, that being that our foreign policy directly affects other people around the world and that these people may resent us based on this. Combined with religious fervor, with the belief in a higher power that gives its blessing to righteous retribution, could this resentment not be sufficient to drive one to sacrifice one’s life in an attempt revisit upon us some small part of the suffering we’ve visited on others? Our foreign policy involves American military bases spread throughout the middle east (and world). It has involved us propping up repressive and unpopular regimes to further our interests. It has involved us standing beside and providing advanced weaponry for a nation established by Westerners, in their infinite wisdom, atop the bulldozed ruins of Palestinian homes. Since 9/11 it has involved us invading two sovereign nations in the area and bombing various others. Even with our advanced technology, bombs are going to kill civillians. War, conflict, occupation, call it what you will, inevitably involves collateral damage. To be beneath the heel of a foreign power, even if that power is ostensibly present for one’s own benefit, is surely a most painful, suffocating and degrading thing! Certainly it is understandable to at least question whether or not our foreign policy, being carried out at least in part to protect us, is creating more enemies than it could ever defeat.

Yet Paul’s explanation of his 9/11 theory was in response to the claim of another candidate, Rick Santorum, that his ‘parroting Osama bin Laden’ was irresponsible. Santorum believes that we are hated because the muslim world is ideologically opposed to our message of freedom, but that notion isn’t even what I write to protest. For the sake of argument let’s assume that Paul is wrong, and that terrorists hate us because we are free and prosperous. Fair enough, but that’s not what Santorum was discussing. He didn’t attack Paul’s idea that our foreign policy resulted in terrorist threats to our nation, explaining why the theory was flawed and inaccurate, he attacked Paul’s very act of suggesting that idea, the act of introspection, just as Giuliani did in the last election. Unfortunately, this only makes his statement all the more sad and absurd. We Americans have long been possessed of a certain sense of exceptionalism, believing ourselves capable of policing the world, righting other people’s wrongs, and molding other nations in our image. This outright hostility to Paul’s message, however, takes the game to a new level. It’s not just that the likes of Santorum and Giuliani disagree with him, it’s that they attack Paul himself for daring to voice such an idea. It’s the idea that Paul is irresponsible or insensitive for wondering if blowback resulting from our intervention in foreign affairs may have caused resentment which at least contributed to the attacks of 9/11. It’s the idea that ‘we are good’ and ‘they are bad’ and to say anything different is to betray this country and the memory of those who perished in 9/11 and those who have died since, which I never believed anybody took seriously until I heard the audience reactions from these debates. Could our heads be any deeper in the sand?

It’s as simple as ‘actions have consequences’. The idea of foreign intervention involving varied and unintended consequences is sound, reasonable, and supported by empirical evidence, but sadly I here defend the very act of expressing the idea. Santorum, Giuliani, audience, whether or not you agree that it is so, it is not irresponsible to consider that one’s own actions may have been part of a problem. In fact, to look at oneself first when seeking fault has long been considered great wisdom. We are but men, after all, and for all of our advances we are frustratingly prone to making even basic mistakes. Just look at us! As a nation we have literally reached the moon, yet for all that we are hamstrung by financial irresponsibility. If one truly wishes to know the truth of a matter one must objectively seek that truth as the primary goal. It cannot be second to some belief which one holds sacred, especially such a belief as in the infallibility of oneself or one’s nation. Much greater historical tragedies than 9/11, such as China’s Cultural Revolution, have taken place through such refusal to challenge popular dogma and self-examine. (We are starving. Clearly it’s not because communism has failed and our great leader Mao has no clue what he’s doing, so it must be due to the continued presence of such bourgeoisie counter-revolutionaries as ‘doctors’ and ‘professors’ and ‘engineers’). If the War on Terror continues to create a political atmosphere in which it is frowned upon or even dangerous to question the wisdom of our own actions, then we will continue to make the same mistakes and create more enemies while chasing shadows. (Terrorists attacked us. Clearly it’s not because our foreign policy is aggressive and otherwise voiceless peoples resent our often violent meddling in their affairs, so it must be due to the muslim world’s hatred of freedom and our need for a stronger military presence abroad to quell such evil). It’s the same, sad pattern, and while it’s just the sort of thing one might have expected from Maoist China, it’s hardly becoming of the United States.

Surreal as it is that I must conclude thus, introspection and questioning of one’s own actions are in fact quite healthy and responsible. It is through such action that one may experience personal growth, or a nation reform counterproductive policy. Such introspection may also reveal that the problem is indeed external, that one’s personal conduct or a nation’s policy is sound, and people will surely disagree. The examination itself, however, is neither dangerous, irresponsible, nor insensitive, and to attack it as such is to promote an incredibly backwards and counterproductive mentality.

Oh, and you can stop assuming that terrorists hate us because we’re free and prosperous now.

…The net result is that complex and high-powered economic analysis within the profession co-exists with utter ignorance and gross fallacies dominating the public, the media, and various branches of government. Even scholars with Ph.D.s in other fields are often ill-informed or misinformed about economics, though that seldom deters them from having and voicing opinons on economic issues.

The above passage is from the preface of Basic Economics: A Citizens’s Guide to the Economy by Thomas Sowell. It is interesting to me because it echoes and confirms that concern which prompted me to schlep down to my public library and check the book out in the first place. Economic issues are at the heart of political debates dividing our nation today, and yet the layman, myself included, is generally uneducated in this field of study. As a Ron Paul supporter in a liberal college town, I find myself constantly engaged with Obama-supporting friends on issues of economic theory. After so many discussions came to ‘yeah huh – nuh uh’ conclusions, it occurred to me that my knowledge of these issues was fairly superficial. It occurred to me that I supported the hands-off approach of Austrian Economics only because it seemed intuitive to me, though I have no real education in the subject, and I suspected, perhaps unfairly, that my friends arrived at their conclusions with similar dearths of understanding.

But economics isn’t the only field which must be understood when discussing politics. Political issues are broad and complex, requiring that one understand their own political philosophy and also be familiar with current and past events. To be an informed voter and citizen is a formidable task! Getting through a big paper such as the New York Times requires hours of reading and reflecting, with incredibly valuable and telling bits of information often being hidden away in back page columns, and even after that work is has been put in one is still required to accept a second or third hand account. With media power so concentrated as it is today, the major outlets all controlled by a handful of powerful magnates, who can accept with blind faith all that one reads and hears? In theory the journalist is impartial, but corruption is inevitable in any human enterprise. One can push an agenda without telling an outright lie. Simply by selecting what news to publish and what context to provide one can use the truth to mislead. And, of course, one can always lie outright.

Even assuming that one has access to secondhand eyes and ears throughout the world providing them with the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, it would still be an enormous task just to gather so staggering an amount of information as is necessary to arrive at a general standpoint on a certain policy even without having to sift through and evaluate it. Even in very local elections, I’ll often show up prepared to vote (passionately) on one or two issues only to find myself confronted with a GRE’s-worth of questions and choices to make. After voting (passionately) on those one or two issues which attracted me to the ballot-box, I’ll make the best decisions I can on those choices about which I’m at least a little informed before going to to sheepishly scribble in the rest of the sections. On a standardized test I guess ‘C’, on a ballot I vote against incumbents. The strategy doesn’t work too well on standardized tests, and I’m fortunate that ballots aren’t scored.

This is the case after I spend more time than I can afford already trying to research current issues and events. How many people actually spend any time on such activities at all? Even in my liberal college town, many of my friends have no interest in politics whatsoever, believing themselves powerless and at the mercy of a bi-partisan block of statesmen all pushing the same policy and agenda. I can certainly sympathize. After all, one’s vote is such a meager method of enforcing one’s will. Thoreau himself decried it as …only expressing to men feebly your desire that [the right] should prevail,’ and that when you have a real choice between ‘right’ and ‘wrong’. As so many of my friends point out, the only options are a republican or a democrat, and that’s hardly a choice at all. In 2008, convinced that Ron Paul had no chance of winning, I voted for Obama because I appreciated his running a clean campaign and because I thought the democrats would be more progressive on social issues. In terms of real, fundamental policy differences, though, he and McCain were nearly identical. Both candidates would have kept us at war. Both candidates would have bailed out the bankers and private interests. Both candidates would have blanched at touching a bloated military budget or (god forbid) acknowledging that we can no longer afford our entitlement programs. The list goes on. Now, this frustration has led to my increased resolve to support a third party candidate such as Ron Paul, despite resistance from the machine such as the virtual media blackout he’s received. But can this be fought? Is there any point? I have no money, I have no power. I have a desire to learn and think and change a failing system, but I haven’t the means to do so. Can I blame my friends for their apathy?

When I studied in China, I asked many Chinese about their views on the fascism and social control exhibited by their government. Some Chinese, especially the well educated and/or scholars, were suffocated by it. I heard more than one Chinese say that Dr Sun Yat-Sen’s revolution was incomplete, that real political liberalization would come with bloodshed. Many Chinese, though, pointed out that China had been led with such a system for thousands of years. A farmer told me that he was not a statesman, didn’t understand politics or economics, and so had no right to exert his influence on the leadership. Let the politicians handle the politics, he told me, and I’ll farm. It makes sense, but the lesson to be taken from it is not democracy’s inferiority. Democracy is dangerous, in a way, but only when the people living in that democracy allow it to become dangerous by becoming dangerous themselves. After all, it is mob rule, and elections popularity contests. The obvious appeal is that in a democracy one enjoys the freedom to hold power over their representatives, holding them accountable for their actions and theoretically ensuring that the authority to govern is derived directly from the consent of the governed. The drawback is that this freedom, as with all freedom, comes with responsibility. A Chinese citizen needn’t concern him/herself with such matters as politics and current events. They are free to live their lives blissfully unaware of those things. An American citizen, on the other hand, has by virtue of citizenship an influence on the policies of the United States. Should the population of the democratic state become apathetic and ignorant, their leaders will continue to do whatever they must to appease that apathetic and ignorant population. The goal of a leader in a democratic society is not to enact intelligent and effective public policy, but to be liked by enough people to ensure his/her political future.

Now we have reached a point where the nation is divided nearly down the middle, along strict party lines. The debate has become democrat vs republican rather than policy vs policy or ideology vs ideology. Presidential debates are little more than glib exchanges of tired talking points, 30 sec soundbites delivered in lieu of more expansive and less easily digested explanations of political philosophy or policy details. Whatever complaint one has against the United States government, our nation’s faults are ultimately the result of the United States populace. Just as a business will only do that which it believes will be profitable, so will our leaders only do what they believe is politically expedient. Where is the incentive to push alternative public policy rather than selling oneself to the two-party system when these third party candidates are largely marginalized and ignored, and what’s the point of defiance? My main man Dr Paul has stuck to his guns through three decades of service, and though he’s miraculously managed to retain the support of his constituents, he’s been and will continue to be pushed to the sidelines in the presidential elections, shunned by a mainstream media spouting self-fulfilling prophecies of his inevitable failure, when they choose to mention him at all. Can it really be that so many are aware of and believe in the mainstream policy pushed by both of the two parties? If so, how is such a rift drawn between them, that so many people are so passionate about how ‘crazy’ or ‘extremist’ their opponents are?

I propose that to educate oneself, to see past cheap scare tactics and chicanery and really understand the issues, proposed actions, and consequences of those proposed actions is quite an undertaking. I propose that too many Americans have, to this point, not been up to that undertaking. Too many of us are distracted by our daily struggles and entertainments, by fear of losing that ‘American Dream’ lifestyle which we have somehow come to believe is our right, and by a national debate framed by partisan finger-pointing rather than rational discussion of different policies. I have heard my friends berate others for failing to vote, saying that the right to vote is one which must be exercised to avoid betraying one’s own freedom. To cast a vote, however, should not be the be-all-end-all for the American citizen. It is easy to cast a vote. The more difficult task is to cast an informed one, and until the American citizen is willing to rise to that challenge we’d be better off choosing to abstain, or giving up that right entirely to a government whose role has switched from one of a protector of the rights of the citizens to determine their own futures to that of a parent guarding and minding its irresponsible children.