Tuesday, March 08, 2005
In light of recent events, I feel I should make a few things abundantly clear:
First of all, this is not a political blog, and I am not a leftist. So if you've been linked here by the Unrepentant Individual and you were expecting savvy political commentary and punditry 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, then I'm sorry to disappoint, but this is never what I claimed to be doing. I also I don't intend to be change my content in order to appeal to people who are looking for leftist rants that they can methodically refute. That is not my business at all. And I like my regular readers just fine, thank you. Besides, I watch the Daily Show and I think Jon Stewart is something of a genius. I am perfectly content to have certain aspects of politics descend into farce.
This is MY blog, a place where I come to talk about my life, my thoughts on current events, theatre and acting, recreational sports, relationships, academia, literature, film, adventure, travel, and whatever other topics become relevant in the course of things. It is also a forum for discussion, from people as nearby as down the street and as far away as South Africa (and perhaps further away, I don't know!). It need not be a narcissistic arena, and I try to refrain from that level of self-involvement whenever possible. But it is also not a soapbox where I spend copious amounts of time trying to enchant or incense people with a little bit of knowledge and a lot of scarcely thought-out opinions. I do not fancy myself a politician, but I'm not disinterested by politics and will wherever relevant discuss politics with people. I am, above all, interested in dialogue. I'm not interested in antagonism, war-mongering, intolerance, or personal attacks. I like to keep things pretty diplomatic -- in here, in life, and in the world in general.
But with that disclaimer, here are just a few of my political beliefs:
-I said I'm not a leftist, and I uphold that claim. I agree with many of the beliefs of people on the left, such as the right to universal health care (which is easy to say is a frivolity if you've never been a five-year-old critically-ill in the hospital for months at a time, a person with persistent mental health problems, or someone who is permanently disabled), the right to universal public and post-secondary education, the need for unions to represent workers, and the awareness of the very real class disparities in a capitalist society.
-there are leftists, however, who will tell you that the only way to create a just world is through violent revolution, and this I do not -- and cannot -- agree with.
-if you must label me, call me a humanist, a pacifist even. Either way, I am deeply concerned with human rights and particularly with the rights of those in society who cannot speak for themselves: the very young, the very old, the sick, and the marginalized.
-My recent work with War Child Canada and the Firefly Project has really opened my eyes to the effects that war has on children. But most of my views on the subject are deeply-held convictions I have had for most of my life. They developed during my participation in peace marches and anti-war demonstrations since before I could walk, from the people I have met who have lived through poverty, war, and conflict, and from my fairly extensive reading on genocide, war, child psychology, and post-traumatic stress, among many other influences.
-This is the primary reason why I have been drawn to aspects of pacifism. I know enough about the effects of war, and especially 20th and 21st century warfare where up to 90% of casualties are non-combattants, to conclude that war is only justifiable in the most extreme of circumstances, when ALL possible diplomatic avenues have been exhausted. That obviously includes the United Nations. To say that it is justified to start a war because there is a dangerous dictator who you're pretty sure has weapons but he hasn't owned up to having any, and hey, there's a lot of oil over there too is not only utterly unconscionable, but in a country like Iraq where 50% of the population is under 15 years old, it is nothing short of criminal. We need a different vocabulary to describe the kind of country that feels it is justified in killing and wounding thousands of children as foreseeable "collateral damage."
-I don't want to live in the kind of world that views the suffering of children as a necessity in order to perpetuate a particular lifestyle and the "national security" of privileged countries. But I'll settle for simply living in a country which is somewhat more reluctant to do these kinds of things.
-I understand the argument that sometimes one has to choose the lesser of two evils when voting in a two-party system, but let's at least choose the one who considers his options carefully, is aware of world opinion and sensitive to cultural differences, and doesn't just "stand up for what he thinks is right in the world," whether that's working towards world peace or ludicrous equations like war = peace, or war = liberation.
-Trying to paint Muslims, or even fundamentalist Muslims with the same brush is foolhardly. I agree with Prone Ranger on that point. It is simply ludicrous to create an "us vs. them," "good vs. evil," "civilization vs. barbarity" dichotomy here -- the world is too complicated for that.
-I cannot stand the idea that American culture is superior and ought to rule. No country can be the world's conscience, because the fact is that international government must by its very definition include some of the many other countries and points of view that make up the world.
-while I believe that people are generally good, I do not believe that when taxes are taken away, everyone will rush to fill the gap with generous charitable donations. Not a chance. You have to look at countries without social safety nets and with generous records for charitable donations to understand that this is simply fiction. Look at Switzerland, which has taken to heart the 'libertarian' attitude towards taxes and welfare, i.e. minimize, minimize, minimize. The poor live in shame, with little or no social assistance, lousy health insurance, and a chronic lack of social housing and educational opportunities. I lived there, I know. Switzerland has the highest suicide rate in Western Europe, which might tell you a bit about how people go about 'filling the gaps' when government help is eliminated. They simply don't. And the poor fall through the cracks in miserable numbers.
-as for the "transformation" in the Middle East, I simply don't buy it. "Democracy" was not built in a day, or in the ten days it took to count the Iraqi election results. The overturning of Lebanon's puppet government means about as much as the expulsion of the Japanese from Manchuria by the Chinese Communist Party -- it merely began another generation of another repressive regime, and this time even more repressive. Never underestimate a country's ability to repress itself. I'm not making negative predictions for the Middle East here. But I would like to point out how laughable it is to say that real, profound, and lasting political and social change can be illustrated by one election and one political coup. We would never cheer Africa if it accomplished that. We like to ignore Africa because with a few exceptions, it doesn't have any resources we'd like to get our grubby little money-loving hands on.
This is probably a good place to insert an anecdote my prof delivered today in class. During the early years of the Chinese Communist Party, a group of young urban party members travelled to the countryside in the outskirts of Beijing in an attempt to mobilize the huge peasant population to rise up against oppressive landlords and high taxes. They stood in the village square and shouted the slogan: "We want freedom!" Unfortunately, there is no Chinese word for political freedom as we in the West understand it, but there is a word which is very similar to the one the party members were using -- it is different by a single tone. And so when the students were yelling: "We want freedom" the peasants understood only "We want cooking oil!"
Perhaps a good illustration of how cultures can clash through no fault of either party, and a useful reminder of why we should be sensitive to languistic and cultural differences, even within our own country.
-So, if people don't turn to fundamentalist Islam because they're searching for meaning and a way to resist in a society which has deprived them of it through grinding poverty and political marginalization, why do they turn to it? For some reason (and perhaps others agree) I get some pretty strong feelings of racism when people talk about the "Clash of Civilizations." Isn't that just another way to say that you want to destroy people who are different from you? How could you even do that when they're aren't even two civilizations to begin with? Instead there are endless shades of grey. There are Muslims, even so-called fundamentalists, who are peaceful, just as there are fundamentalist Christians who do not support George Bush or the war in Iraq. So what's with the black vs. white? And how do American Muslims feel about this offensive crusade, anyway? Any Muslims in the audience?
So, Brad, I don't think you're a hard-core "Bushie," but I do think you voted for him. Many people saw Bush as being the worse half of the "bad or worse" option. And I think we've established that admiring someone for sticking to their guns is not sufficient reason to vote for them. Many politicians (Bush included!) have strong beliefs about all kinds of fictional crap, and show no remorse for the things they do, but that certainly does not make them people to vote for! If anything, it makes them potentially more dangerous than any of us realise. I myself would much rather vote for someone who thought things through, regretted their mistakes and apologized for them, and respected the rights of other nations to have differing religious and political systems. A government of paranoia is not one I would vote for. And this fact is not changed by the number of "THE TERRORIST THREAT IS REAL" websites that I read. After all, there are an awful lot of sites showing that we never walked on the moon, and we never found out who shot JFK, and that doesn't mean those conspiracy theories have any basis in reality at all.
This is not to say that I don't think terrorism is a problem, or that the threat of terrorism is nothing more than a conspiracy theory. I just don't think that the terrorism threat in either Afghanistan or Iraq was serious enough to justify invading sovereign nations full of innocent people without pursuing all possible diplomatic avenues first.
I have many more political beliefs of course, but that's just a sample.
I don't want to bore or alienate people by having a one-track mind about anything, be it politics, religion, sex, or whatever.
Which is why I will stop here.
As usual, I am interested to know what you all have to say on the subject.
We now return to your regularly scheduled programming.
Thanks for reading.