Saturday, October 23, 2004
Do you get it yet?
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I've been reflecting lately on a concept that I don't have a name for. I remember some twee story about a kid tossing a starfish back in the ocean and being asked 'why bother? there are thousands washed up and going to die,' The kid replied that 'it made a difference to that one.' Mother Theresa may have entered into it somewhere too.
I also remember Churchill's advice in case of German invasion that "you can always take one with you."
There's something there that I can only describe as faith. You may not be able to fix the entire problem but you deal with what's before you. Why will passenger airliners not be used as weapons again? Because the passengers won't allow it.
There's something essential about the notion that "You may hurt or kill me, but you will by God pay the highest price that I can exact." It's a fundamental commitment to the principle of order in the world. I believe it springs from the same place that leads people to fall on grenades to save buddies. Faith. Faith that there are such things as right and wrong. Faith that we as a people can learn and carry on and improve. Faith that there is something here worth fighting for, worth preserving.
Though of course you could also call it perversity, or sheer cussedness. The absolute refusal to yield.
"We shall go on to the end, we shall fight in France, we shall fight on the seas and oceans, we shall fight with growing confidence and growing strength in the air, we shall defend our Island, whatever the cost may be, we shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills; we shall never surrender, and even if, which I do not for a moment believe, this Island or a large part of it were subjugated and starving, then our Empire beyond the seas, armed and guarded by the British Fleet, would carry on the struggle, until, in God's good time, the New World, with all its power and might, steps forth to the rescue and the liberation of the old."
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Oh surely you jest. It is not September 10th. It will never be September 10th again. We can't go back there ever again. That sense of security was a false sense of security. We had a magical lucky unique little interlude, but that's not the natural shape of the world. The Pax Romana ended because Rome grew too fat and decadent to bother with defense. The natural order of the world - including humans - is that the strong prey on the weak. Study the behavior of packs of wolves and chimps and you'll learn some fundamentals about us too. It takes a complex, almost magical, system to create a world in which women can dress and dance like you see on MTV and both feel, and feel entitled to feel, physically safe from assault.
The things that set us apart are the tools of cooperation and exchange. Language, written language, and money. With those tools we're able to multiply the potential of an individual exponentially. We are able to transmit information because we all agree that we'll call that green thing a tree, and that the lines of ink on paper arranged this way correspond to that green leafy thing. We all agree that a gold coin has an inherent stable value that is an acceptable exchange for so many hours of work or so many pounds of flour. We all agree that a green piece of paper will serve the same function. We all agree that red means stop and green means go. Without that collective agreement we're back to the days of the Neanderthal.
Call it a social contract or culture or morality or religion, whatever, there are certain things that hold our civilization together. They are not holy or sacrosanct in a traditional sense, they're merely necessary. I prefer to think of them as load-bearing walls. It's not that they're sacred, it's that there are certain elements of a structure that you just can't remove or cut holes through without major precautions or you'll bring the whole thing down around your ears. (You can tell where my head is lately.)
There are certain things, which must not be tolerated in the kind of civilization in which I want to live. Ironically the things which must not be tolerated tend to be "things that must not be tolerated." Banning books. Banning websites. Banning tools and not behaviors. (I have to add once more that a determined wacko who paid attention in high school chemistry, armed only with the contents of one aisle at Cub, could cause more mayhem than a thug with a machine gun.) Deliberately killing children. (By this I mean helpless innocents, not over-young combatants.) Civilized people do not harm the young. There can be no dialogue with wolves. Zero tolerance isn't for pocket knives and aspirin, it's for the assholes that bayonet children.
Do a little reading on the Cuban missile crisis. Recall that Kerry wants to model himself after JFK. Compare preparing to nuke a target 90 miles from our shores and start WWIII, while doped up, to what Bush has done. Utilize a little historical perspective people, is it so much to ask? The freaking NUCLEAR missiles came up out of their silos! The past was not the rosy idyll of your childhood. The bloodiest war this country ever fought was the civil war. Ahem. Against OURSELVES. Let's figure out away to avoid doing that again hmmm?
Forget about how the candidates would act. How would they REACT to a real crisis?
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