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My political naivete [Nov. 28th, 2007|10:14 am]
Okrzyki, przyjaciel!
The other day I got into one of those discussions with optic where I come out with some broad sweeping generalization, and he proceeds to run rings around me logically. I could just be annoyed, but I like to think that he's making me think and keeping me honest.

My broad statement was something like "For the past 50 years the US has been singlemindedly stealing from and wreaking destruction on the rest of the world."

So he points out that this is a simple-minded Howard Zinn-esque critique. Fair enough.

So lets for a minute assume that the real agenda of the United States has been to protect its interest, as best it can for the past 50 years. The goals have been, roughly:

1. Preventing the spread of Communism
2. Protecting US economic interests at home and abroad.
2. Promoting Peace and Prosperity around the world, so long as it doesn't conflict with goals 1 and 2.

Again fair enough read on the American Project since WWII. But the devil is in the details. Along the way, the US has done a number of things to pursue these goals that I think have been morally objectionable, wantonly destructive, and ultimately counterproductive, right up until the present day.

Things like: Covertly supporting the overthrow of democratic regimes in places like Chile and Iran, and most recently Bolivia. Starting wars on bogus grounds, like Vietnam and Iraq. Supporting corrupt oligarchies because they paid lip service to anti-communism, and supporting anti-democratic, repressive regimes, to preserve our access to their natural resources on the cheap. Waging a 'war on terror' which comprises mainly chasing down a bunch of really bad people that we used to support economically and militarily.

This hasn't been a Democratic or Republican thing, it's been a constant going back to the end of the second world war. Along the way, the US has become the biggest consumer of non-renewable resources in the world, dragged our feet on every environmental protection issue up to and including global warming.

Not to mention a whole laundry list of other actions from dubious to awful.

The question is not whether the people in charge over the last 60+ years have been sincere in their actions to protect and defend the US. I'm sure they mostly were, but you know wht they say about best intentions.

The real question is this: If there isn't some shadowy plutocracy accelerating us toward doomsday for their own selfish reasons, but the results are the same as if there was, where does that leave us? The rest of the world, if you bother to listen to them has one of two impressions of the US -- either it's the real evil empire, or it's a bumbling and destructive behemoth who breaks all the nice things and leaves the seat up on the toilet. Geopolitically speaking.

Sure we've done some Good Things along the way. We should keep doing them, and do a lot more of them. Compared to the negative consequences of US actions in the world, they're pretty small beer so far.

Wouldn't a little informed idealism, some fair play give and take, some real transparency be a good thing for a change? Maybe we should actually try to live up to our ideals, and see how that goes?

From: keph
2007-11-28 07:02 pm (UTC)

I was looking at energy consumption by country and it struck me how near impossible it is to get a clear picture. As a country, we are actually come out extremely well in many comparable data sets but bad in others. We are squarely in the middle of almost any data set that is normalized for GDP in the developed world. We do badly when it comes to per capita.

In terms of trending, we are among the best over the past 15 years in becoming more efficient in terms of energy usage. Can we do better? Absolutely. Our economy will likely lead the way worldwide through technology innovation & investment. Hopefully the special interest won't hinder things too much with crap ethanol and other subsidies and people will get over themselves when it comes to nuclear energy.

Doomsday may or may not happen regardless of our actions. Ultimately, the notion that we as a single country have all that much control over every local situations around the globe outweighs reality. It is a nice fantasy and a great strawman. Besides, you were just staying how little people in Berlin were giving thought to us, not sure how this jives with America throwing its weight around as some evil empire.

I don't say that to excuse our very bad behavior at times or to say that we have been right all the time. Clearly, neither are true. However, I tend to think that the world is much, much better off today than it was 50 years ago. I have a hard time believing anyone would want to return to the pre-WWII era of global & local politics, wars, starvation, poverty, and general health than the gains that have been made since. If you think we are the source of all that is bad out there then I can contend that we are the reason the world is such a significantly better place it is today (largely due to the economic environment created through our policies). I don't think that but you can't assign all the blame unless you are willing to give all the credit as well.

Personally, I am very suspicious of idealism. I find it very dangerous and one of the reasons we get into many of the problems we do. Idealism always thinks it has the answers when it tends to know jack all creating real solutions. I would like us to develop some real principles and create a culture where when ideals meet reality we don't fall apart, get impatient, or decided to say fuck it and blow it all up. The Clinton administration was particularly good at that and even still made their fair share of missteps.

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[User Picture]From: chaircrusher
2007-11-28 07:15 pm (UTC)
I don't want to advocate naive idealism as a solution to our problem. I just want a foreign policy and an economic policy that doesn't directly contradict our commonly held values. We're for Democracy, yet we reward anti-democratic regimes. We're against torture and murder, yet we train the Guatemalan military who go home and torture and murder peasants. Not to mention torturing prisoners ourselves. We're for democracy but foment a military coup against Hugo Chavez. He may be a jerk, but he's their jerk.

It's one thing to be suspicious of idealism, and another thing to be suspicious of ideals.

As to whether the world is better, in some ways yes, in some ways no. There are no world-wide military conflagrations going on, but there's at least one genocide going on.

We can do better.
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[User Picture]From: optic
2007-11-28 09:45 pm (UTC)
argh. I just wrote a long response to this that LJ ate. suffice it to say it demolished all of your arguments handily and wittily, and proposed a guaranteed solution to all the world's problems. however, I don't feel like typing it again.
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[User Picture]From: chaircrusher
2007-11-28 10:04 pm (UTC)
So did LJ also eat your proof of Fermat's last theorem, the Riemann Hypothesis, and P = NP?
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[User Picture]From: optic
2007-11-28 10:06 pm (UTC)
they were all on a floppy disk that got lost in the mail
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