Monday, October 18, 2004

Some more gems in my old e-mail. This is from Keith, a very bright guy on one of my mailing lists. Understand that he wrote this on April 4, 2003 in response to an essay about how much the "average" Iraqi wanted us to invade Iraq:

I think this is likely to be true of some of the people in Iraq; a lot of Iraqis welcome this invasion. We will find allies among the Shiites and the Christians and the Kurds.

But there are millions of people there, coming from a tradition of shooting instead of talking. Millions are beholden to Saddam. This will make constructing a democracy difficult, and it will mean there are millions ready to shoot at us.

One of the irritating phrases that often comes up in conversation is "the average Iraqi". The vision conveyed is "average middle-class American with different clothes and language and religion", and behavior and reactions are extrapolated from that. Iraq is a hodgepodge of people, without a dominant archetype; if I had to characterize it, I would say a mixture of Shiite, Kurd, Sunni Arab, secular, with a sprinkle of oddball Christian. Or as herder, farmer, shopkeeper, army, bureaucrat, police. Or as revolutionary, disgruntled, apathetic, stooge, collaborator, ward heeler, leader. Or as cattle and rancher; the Baath monsters act like a species apart. If there are any with "average American" behavior, they left and came here.

The government resembles an insular Bolshevik street gang with millions of members, bound by evil initiatory acts that forever isolate them from their neighbors. The violence and murder committed by the Baath party performs no useful political function. Instead, it initiates the perpetrators into the cult of Saddam, and binds them to the regime as fear or greed alone never could. Street gangs and organized crime work the same way here. The opinions of the victims are not the opinions of the gangsters.

Will the shopkeepers fight? Of course not. Will the Baath regulars, informers, dependents? Of course. When the U.S. wins, the gangsters will get killed by their neighbors anyway.

Sampling one family, one neighborhood, one creed, or one border guard does not make a complete picture. You and I have a lot more in common with a Muslim Iraqi immigrant to America than any given Iraqi has with another Iraqi.

And this means we will see millions waving, and millions shooting, and millions in between hunkered down and waiting for it all to end. We should be ready for a long period of mutual annihilation, and it will be difficult to separate the people we can work with and the people we can't. If we go into this assuming "the average Iraqi will like us", and we encounter continuing heavy resistance, then we may decide "the average Iraqi hates us" and react vindictively. If we instead recognize that there are no averages, only individuals, we can make friends individually, one at a time, and work our way slowly but surely to a peaceful and friendly democratic Iraq.
Prophetic, to say the least.

And a quote that resonates with me:

A Committee is a blind alley down which good ideas are lured, and quietly strangled.
-Charles F. Young

And another one from Keith. It is four years old, but nothing has changed other than substituting "Kerry" for "Gore":

If this country has sunk to the point that four years of a single person of any persuasion can change things forever, then it is time to set off our own H-Bombs in the silos and hope God will be there to sort us out in the Hereafter.

I challenge anyone on this list to provide a quote from the Bible, counseling despair as a Christian virtue. Yes, we live in a sinful world. Yes, there are people that appear to our limited senses as more evil or less evil. But the most evil thing of all, I would think, is to assign any one of them Godlike powers to change the world forever, beyond the ability of any one of us to work towards its restoration.

The collectivist sin is to "act globally", that is, not act at all, and to pretend the actions of others are your own. Or that Bush or Gore or Browne or God will do the job for you, that you can sit back and be a drama critic. To pretend that your vote matters, is crucial, except ... when your politician does something loathsome, to cast off the responsibility by prating that the other guy would have been worse, or that somehow the responsibility gets diffused in a democracy.

But there is a worse sin than that. This sin is to act petulantly, and vindictively, and act to thwart those who don't act according to your wishes. "Voting for the lesser" is nothing more than acting to thwart those who think your lesser evil is the greater evil. As they act to thwart you. Are not Bush and Gore exactly the kind of reward an angry and just God would give to the American people for being so hard-hearted and nasty?

When tribulation comes, it will rain down on the good and the wicked alike. But there is a difference in what it means to each. A wicked man may sense in that tribulation worse to come, and will lose hope. A truly good man will look at the tribulation as an external event, a temporary storm cloud that cannot last forever. And even this agnostic can see that a single man, helpless, friendless, nailed to a cross by a mighty empire, can vanquish that empire and change the world forever. It is never hopeless when you do good.

A vote is a chance to speak the truth, quietly, timidly, allowing even the meek to be heard. If the Libertarians don't get enough votes they lose ballot access and that chance will be difficult to regain. But that is not the reason you should speak the truth; we can circulate those petitions again. The Democrats can take away your guns and money. But there is a world full of iron and gold ore; you can make more.

Nothing you have is irreplaceable in this world, except for your integrity and your soul. If you use your vote as a lie, or if you use it to thwart and punish others for disagreeing with you, if you write "George W. Bush" because other deluded fools are writing "Albert Gore", how can you ever be free? And why do you think you deserve freedom anyway, if you can use the sins of others to justify your own?

I don't agree with everything that Harry Browne is or says or does. Of the nominees presented at the LP convention, he was number three on my list. But I would be willing (gulp!) to stand in front of any judge (or Judge) and personally take what ever punishments Mr. Browne has coming to him (and there would be some, no man is perfect, and even unelected leaders have plenty of chances to sin). That is what my vote means to me. It is my word, my bond, my pledge of loyalty. My assent. Can you say the same about the folks you are voting for? If so, bless you and good luck.

I started this thread with the idea that votes come with both a public and a personal (spiritual?) dimension. The public dimension consumed the argument; most of the Bush voters are writing like there is no personal dimension. I can imagine why - to think that a single act could possibly cast one into the Pit, even a worldly one of separation from those whom your vote is intended to reject, is a hard thing to think about. But we aren't on this planet to think about the easy stuff.

It is better to win battles than to lose them, granted. But Jesus told us that the peacemakers were blessed, and didn't even mention the "victors". In the long run, which team do you want to be on?
It always strikes me as funny how the same junk gets recycled every four years. I'm closer now than at any time since I turned 18 to just saying forget the whole mess and stay home.

And this was a response from Bill on the same mailing list:

Imagine that we are all on a large ship together. The ship is slowly sinking and various compartments of the ship are becoming submerged or at least very wet. The ship is littered with holes of various sizes in the hull and water is coming onboard through all of them. Some people spend all there time trying to siphon and pump water from one compartment to another. They try to intercept water coming into one compartment and make it go into another compartment instead. Each person is thinking of the stuff that's in their favorite compartments. Some people want to save the guns so they are pumping water from there into the compartment holding the endangered baby owls. Some people want to save the dirty books and alternative artwork, so they are pumping water from there into the compartment holding all the American flags.

The majority of the people are fighting over which compartments should be pumped out and which ones can be sacrificed. All the while the boat just keeps getting lower in the water because there are not enough people trying to plug up the holes in the hull and bail water back out into the ocean again.

There are plenty of people on board who know that they really should be plugging holes getting the water all the way out of the ship by manning the bilge pumps but they keep getting distracted by the fact that their favorite stuff is threatened by water coming from somebody else's compartment so they abandon the bilge pumps for a while to try to save their favorite stuff. A few people are hanging on the outside of the ship and attempting to plug the holes below the water line to stop the ship from sinking. And a few people are laboring hard at the bilge pumps but not enough of them.

The bilge pumpers and hole pluggers keep yelling for help and trying to impress on others the importance of reducing the overall amount of water in the ship and the amount of water gushing into the ship but to no avail. Ninety percent of the energy on the ship is still just pumping water from one room to another. The compartment siphoners are always amazed at the bilge pumpers because they think they are wasting their time. "Look at all these wet flags", they say. "Why aren't you helping me keep these flags dry?" "The owls are up to their knees in saltwater now. How dare you let the owls get so wet?", they howl.

In every compartment there is a worker, completely focused on the task at hand. They must get this water to go someplace else or their stuff will be submerged. They scramble around for pipes and pumps and drill holes into other compartments to get water off of their stuff and onto somebody else's stuff.

Whenever the bilge pumpers start yelling for help all the compartment siphoners just ignore them. You see, there was a rumor that the bilge pumpers are only interested in getting all the water out of the ship because it was their marijuana shipment in the ballast hold that was the first thing to get flooded.

The bilge pumpers are completely focused on cranking their pumps. They can't understand why anybody would waste time pumping water from one place to another because it's obvious it's not reducing the amount of water in the ship. The hole pluggers are flabbergasted that the bilge pumpers don't understand the importance of plugging the holes before worrying about getting the water back out of the ship. "The water's just going to keep coming in until the holes are plugged", they say.

Well, of course the ship sank and everyone on board died. The investigators who looked into the event just shook their heads and kept repeating to themselves. "Why didn't they all work together to repair the holes first, then pump all the water out of the ship? That's the only way they could have saved themselves. And why are all these hoses just running from one compartment to another?"
Which is funny, but also quite sad when you think about it.

And that should be enough for now, unless I un-earth some more e-mails.

No comments: