Monday, 31 May 2004

Idealistic Vision & Practical Considerations

I've always been an idealist. At times that's led to naivete, but it scarcely means that I can't weigh practical concerns in reaching conclusions. Indeed it is never necessary that idealism be naive. Martin Luther King Jr was extraordinarily effective because of his ability to predict the practical outcomes of group actions he endorsed, while never losing sight of the idealistic vision, which was the underpinning of the changes he espoused.

It strikes me that a very common course is for people who follow their ideals early and get burned one or more times to become cynical and start to favor practical courses of action over idealistic ones as a matter of policy. The world very much needs pragmatists skilled in predicting outcomes, but when pragmatism becomes the goal, and idealistic vision is mocked as naive, then pragmatism loses its point altogether.

It is my intent to present the ideal and ask "Why not?" Sometimes there's a good answer, but even then keeping a vision of the ideal gives us a yardstick against which to measure the various outcomes short of the ideal which are within reach. After that it is all cost/benefit analysis, but proximity to ideals needs to be kept as a highly desired benefit, else we stray down a random road without much meaning.

Saturday, 29 May 2004

Attorney General Ashcroft

I have little doubt that John Ashcroft is well-intentioned, and sincerely believes that he acts on profoundly moral principles, but unless he quickly comes to understand that many other profoundly moral individuals are being profoundly screwed by policies that he has engineered, his remaining in power creates a danger to the foundation of our Democracy.

It is a sufficient indictment of his policies to show that many entirely innocent people are being hurt by them, but I am especially looking for compelling stories of people whose good works are being stopped or interrupted by legal or other action from this justice department. Send me some links! [End of Post]

Tuesday, 25 May 2004

even a stopped clock is right twice a day

Though I disparage him, even our president is occasionally right. The other day he remained steadfast in his refusal to open the strategic petroleum reserve, even giving the correct reasons for doing so. This made me happy on two counts. One he is actually doing the right thing, and two the resulting failure to reduce gas prices may slightly hurt his reelection chances. I'm OK with the fact many will vote against him for the wrong reasons, knowing already that many will vote for him against their own interests.

Of course the president went on to chastise Congress for not passing his energy plan three years ago which would have lined corporate pockets and diminished environmental protections. Who was on that energy task force anyway?

Monday, 24 May 2004

Am I Overwrought?

Those who know me, may be surprised to hear me equivocate about my own liberalism, declaring that I have conservative values as well. I certainly will NOT equivocate about my displeasure with the policies of the Bush Administration! Therein lies the point. My displeasure is not focused on how far to the right the administration has moved, but rather on how consistently wrong it is. Indeed there are politicians arguably to the right of Bush, Jack Kemp comes to mind, who command my respect though I might adamantly disagree with much of their politics.

Of late, I've been almost overwrought about the willingness of so many to find Bush to be an acceptable leader of this, the most powerful nation in a dangerous world. Many who share my distress express dismay at how far to the right Bush has moved. I don't think he has *moved* to the right, he has simply focused on issues to *appease* the far right constituency upon which he depends so much. The frightening underpinning of his foreign policy appears to have been there from the start, and is equally appalling to Pat Buchanan as it is to Ralph Nader. Opposition to gay marriage and the like is all just window dressing to activate the conservative base.

Tuesday, 18 May 2004

Labels / Multi-dimensionality

Some things, though they are pretty obvious to most folks, routinely get ignored most of the time. Most people would agree that we are complex beings, with views and beliefs which vary from issue to issue, based on our values, assumptions, and evaluations of cause and effect. And yet many of us routinely fall back on the attempt to label people as being fixed at some particular point along a single axis. When thinking politically, that is more often than not how 'liberal' or 'conservative' one is, with 'moderate' being defined as the center of the line, but moving considerably toward the opinion of the speaker.

Ever since George I, in his debates with Dukakis, chose to denigrate his foe with the label of liberal, clearly used as a pejorative, I've taken to wearing the label as a badge of honor. The core values I have, which often lead me to liberal positions on issues, are such things as concern for the disadvantaged and downtrodden, a sense of fairness, a spirit of generosity, and a willingness to try on new solutions. These hardly seem deserving of the mockery with which it has become fashionable within some circles to demean liberalism. But I certainly have some conservative values as well. Caution in exercising new solutions, temperance in personal behavior, respect for honored traditions, calm in dealing with new situations are some examples.

What seems saddest to me, is when people become so attached to how they are identified, that they constrain their beliefs to some sort of orthodoxy, rather than thinking out what really makes sense to them for any given issue. These same folks, liberals and conservatives alike, then apply the same orthodoxy to what they hear from others, rather than judging an opinion on its merits. It's possible to deeply respect an opinion with which you vehemently disagree, just as it's possible to disrespect one whose basis is adherence to orthodoxy, even though you might agree with its conclusions.

So if, for instance, I happen to agree with Richard Rodriguez' opinion on the failure of affirmative action to achieve its aims, it hardly follows that I want to deny opportunities to black Americans based on their color. Neither does it mean that I won't listen to cogent arguments to the contrary. But some would find me out of orthodoxy and hence dismiss all my opinions out of hand. I confess to tending to do the same thing when someone argues a position with which I vehemently disagree, but I do try to be watchful that I not let my leanings cloud my ability to follow someone's logic, even if I end up dismissing their conclusion based on a separate line of reasoning.

Permitting Myself to State the Obvious

As I embark on this project of publicly sharing my views, let it be known that I frequently expect to be sharing observations that are pretty obvious. It seems to me that many, in their desire to be erudite, shy away from the obvious in favor of subtle distinctions. Subtle distinctions can be important, but sometimes they are used to obfuscate the more obvious truth. For instance:
                War is hell

In order to justify the organized slaughter of our fellow human beings, there needs to be an extraordinarily compelling necessity. War has become such a regular part of human history, that we become inured to the idea of it, in spite of recognizing its horror. I will not shy away from identifying myself as a pacifist, in spite of my intellectual recognition of the practical need for nations to organize militaries for their defense. Yes there have been cases where taking up arms has been a necessity for one side in a conflict, but far more often its necessity on both sides has been argued by those who stand to gain by the bloodshed of others, and the end result is a tragic waste. Even in those rare cases where the totality of human suffering endured is arguably less as a result of a war than it would have been without it, it does not necessarily follow that the war was the only means to the improved end. If we cannot dream of a future without war, what good are dreams.

Friday, 7 May 2004

Spoken 37 Years Ago - Chillingly Relevant Today

The setup process is somehow not conducive to great profundity, so I'll start out by quoting Dr King's words from 1967, from a sermon he gave at Riverside Church in New York.

“… the words of the late John F. Kennedy come back to haunt us. Five years ago he said, ‘Those who make peaceful revolution impossible will make violent revolution inevitable.’ Increasingly, by choice or by accident, this is the role our nation has taken, the role of those who make peaceful revolution impossible by refusing to give up the privileges and the pleasures that come from the immense profits of overseas investments. I am convinced that if we are to get on the right side of the world revolution, we as a nation must undergo a radical revolution of values. We must rapidly begin the shift from a thing-oriented society to a person-oriented society. When machines and computers, profit motives and property rights, are considered more important than people, the giant triplets of racism, extreme materialism, and militarism are incapable of being conquered.

“A true revolution of values will soon cause us to question the fairness and justice of many of our past and present policies. On the one hand we are called to play the Good Samaritan on life’s roadside, but that will be only an initial act. One day we must come to see that the whole Jericho Road must be transformed so that men and women will not be constantly beaten and robbed as they make their journey on life’s highway. True compassion is more than flinging a coin to a beggar. It comes to see that an edifice which produces beggars needs restructuring.

“A true revolution of values will soon look uneasily on the glaring contrast of poverty and wealth. With righteous indignation, it will look across the seas and see individual capitalists of the West investing huge sums of money in Asia, Africa, and South America, only to take the profits out with no concern for the social betterment of the countries, and say, ‘This is not just.’ It will look at our alliance with the landed gentry of South America and say, ‘This is not just.’ The Western arrogance of feeling that it has everything to teach others and nothing to learn from them is not just.

“A true revolution of values will lay hand on the world order and say of war, “This way of settling differences is not just.” This business of burning human beings with napalm, of filling our nation’s homes with orphans and widows, of injecting poisonous drugs of hate into the veins of peoples normally humane, of sending men home from dark and bloody battlefields physically handicapped and psychologically deranged, cannot be reconciled with wisdom, justice, and love. A nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual death.

“America, the richest and most powerful nation in the world, can well lead the way in this revolution of values. There is nothing except a tragic death wish to prevent us from reordering our priorities so that the pursuit of peace will take precedence over the pursuit of war. There is nothing to keep us from molding a recalcitrant status quo with bruised hands until we have fashioned it into a brotherhood.”

-- Martin Luther King, Jr
May 1967