Friday, June 3, 2011

an open letter to Libertarians

Dear Libertarian,
I have a question for you. It is a question that, until answered, will prevent me from joining you. But before we get to my question, I want to start by congratulating you on the ways you have revitalized the political debate in my country. You share positions with both the liberal and conservative branches of our extremely polarized political landscape, and as such, you bring the hope that rational thought has a chance against the media blitz of buzz words and polarization that has toxified American politics ever since the Reagan era.

In order to look at how you have done this, we need to see how you agree and disagree with each of the status quo parties. Once we have done that, I can ask my question.

The size of government:
There is the perception that Republicans want to reduce the size and role of government, and that Democrats want to expand the size and role of government. This is not actually true. Republicans actually want to expand government as much as Democrats do, but the real difference is about where to put the expansion. Democrats want to expand the social safety net, and Republicans want to expand the imperialistic foreign policy machine that opens doors for mega-corporations to exploit resources around the globe. For the most part, this Republican expansion of government is focused on the machinery of the  military and espionage. It relies on a misguided sense of uber-patriotism and the perception of threats from abroad to keep the public supporting this expansion. 9/11/2001 and the ensuing Iraq war was the mother of all examples of this strategy.

It appears to me that you are honest and consistent in your claims to actually want smaller government, since you point to the positions of both parties as examples of wrongheaded expansionism.

Closely related to size of government is the issue of taxation. Here you appear to be in line with Republicans, but this again is not exactly the case. If the Republicans had to choose between imperial expansion and taxation, they would tax. They only use the issue of taxation as a bludgeon to go after the social programs of the Democrats. Your position is more consistent, calling for the reduction of both military and social spending. Tax cutting appears to be a genuine concern for you.

Foreign Policy:
I have hinted at this above. Republican foreign policy is clearly imperialistic. It is all about who will cooperate with international corporate expansion and who will not. Who will allow their resources to be exploited by interests in or allied with the U.S. and who will not. This is how we define friends and enemies.

The Democrats are cautious about veering too far afield from Republican imperialism, for several reasons. Their bread is buttered by the same corporate donors. And the stigma of being perceived as "unpatriotic" keeps them from being too aggressive in shifting foreign policy away from the military and toward a humanitarian but equally meddlesome policy.

Somehow, unlike the Democrats, you have managed to find a position on this that calls the patriotic bluff of the Republicans.

Domestic Policy:
I have hinted at this above as well. Simply put, Republicans believe that the social safety net fosters dependency and creates a class of people who are under incentivized and, to put it bluntly, lazy. They would eliminate or privatize the social safety net if given free run. They would also privatize most of the function that we associate with government. This is based on an unflinching belief that Capitalism somehow is the panacea for all social and economic ills. In a purely Republican system there would be a very small government minimally overseeing a vast array of corporate systems to maintain what the founding fathers referred to as "the commons": roads and bridges, schools, public safety, and national defense. Republicans would sell off government to corporate interests with the idea that competition would regulate. This puts a lot of confidence in the good will of mega-corporations, and would throw us into medieval feudalism at the hands of those same corporations almost overnight.

Democrats on the other hand, appear to see government as the solution to most of the problems that beset society. In the past, and in the rhetoric of hard core conservatives still now, the Democratic approach has been labeled as "socialism".  Democrats see social safety net programs as a helping hand to those who have fallen through the cracks and are suppressed by their lack of resources to participate in society effectively. They do not trust corporations and are averse to privatization of the commons. They tend to favor regulation due to their lack of trust of corporations, and due to their deep seated belief that corporations will abuse the public interest in favor of the bottom line. They tend to believe that the profit motive is not in the best interest of any but the shareholders of that profit. As such, Democrats tend to believe that more government is good for it's watchdog role as well as its role as protector and provider of the commons. Democrats tend to take this enthusiasm for the benefits of government to extremes, and attempt to solve all social and economic ills with more regulation and more taxes.

It is clear to me that you are not happy with the Democrats reliance on government as the panacea for all problems. It is not clear to me where you stand on the issues of privatization of the commons, so I cannot characterize my understanding of your position related to the Republicans.

Confidence in human nature:
This section is not about Republicans and Democrats. Both seem to be cynical about human nature, and seek, in their own ways, to manipulate and control. The Republicans by reducing human nature to the profit motive, and the Democrats by reducing human nature to a parent child relationship. This section is about Libertarians. You seem to base your desire for less government on a deep belief that people have an internal compass, and if left to their own devices, will do the right thing. Libertarianism, as far as I can tell, is based on confidence in that internal compass to guide the evolution of society. The reason we do not see this moral compass at work more clearly, according to the theory, is that we are all reacting to the two polar influences of the political parties on society, and are thus kept off balance.

The question:
This brings us to the question that I need to get answered. I really want to believe that you are right. With a clean slate, maybe you would be. But our slate is far from clean. So how do we get there from here. We live in a world where corporations have more rights than humans. We live in a world divided between the haves and the have-nots. There are ultra-wealthy controllers of the society that will not relinquish their grip on the controls willingly, and have all the power to maintain those controls. (These controllers are behind both of the parties and the corporate media, and use these as tools to keep us arguing amongst ourselves rather than turning our attention toward them.) So I repeat. How do we get to the libertarian ideal from where we are today? To simply dismantle the social network and our foreign policy overnight would not work. There are too many frustrations and resentments built up in the population of our nation and our world to allow a healthy transition. Blood would flow in the streets. Abuse would be rampant while the pressure was released. I have not heard a coherent roadmap outlined yet for how to get us from where we are today to the libertarian world that seems so compelling. I need to see that roadmap to get on board.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

some thoughts on the demise of Bin Laden

Was he armed?
There has been a great deal of discussion this week about whether or not Osama Bin Laden was armed when US Navy Seal Team 6 aprehended and killed him. This article from NPR summarizes the transcripts of what was said officially on the subject as the story unfolded: On Whether Bin Laden Was Armed.

I find this whole obsession amusing in a morbid sense. Americans have all grown up with and internalized the western movie code that you don't shoot an unarmed man. The ethical gunslinger would sometimes even give a gun to the bad guy so he could kill him in good conscience. The idea behind this is that good people only kill when there is no other choice. And so, even though the American public seems elated and broadly supportive of the operation of Seal Team 6 and its outcome, we still need to know if the bad guy drew first.

While most of America will not lose a moment's sleep over the demise of Bin Laden, the idea that he didn't pull out his six shooter and die in a "fair" fight is clearly of interest to us. The fact that early statements from officials implied that he did speaks to the sensitivity of Americans on the subject.

My personal feeling about this is that it is not related to the wild west, nor to American fairy tale sensibilities. This was a cold, calculated, thoroughly planned and painstakingly executed operation by the only global super power. It had nothing to do with US Marshal Matt Dillon's moral character. Nothing ever done by a super power has anything to do with our John Wayne national self image. All that is window dressing for mass consumption. That OBL would die a violent death at the hands of the state was almost inevitable.  And he very likely expected it. He certainly set himself up for it.

What is really at stake here is the energy and direction of the age we live in at a global scale. and that brings us to my second point.

Does it really matter?
The other big question on the minds of everyone these days is what impact this development will have on global terrorism as an organizing principle. Will this demoralize al Qaida or steel their resolve? Will it bring new converts to the movement or will it frighten them off.  Terrorism is already losing its lustre. Yes, it's still out there, and still going on, but the Arab and Muslim worlds have moved on. They have discovered a more effective model for change.

As evidence, I submit to you Tunisia, and Egypt, and all the middle eastern nations in which the populations are standing up and openly and collectively challenging the oppressors that have governed them brutally for so long. Terrorism is for people who fear reprisals if they protest openly. What is happening now is not cloaked in fear and subversion, but rather, has gone beyond that, to revolution at any cost. It is open and direct.

Terrorism thrives when the powers that be are so strong that they cannot be opposed openly. When the hunger for freedom overcomes fear and stands up at any cost, irresistible forces are humbled and terrorism ceases to be useful or relevant. The world is moving into a new phase of openness. And so, the death of Osama Bin Laden, while inevitable and emotionally satisfying to many Americans, is too late to be significant as more than a marker of an era already in decline, and so is irrelevant in the shifting of planetary forces currently under way.

Footnote: This article showed up online hours after I posted.