music fans and barma-angst fans and lowell-icana fans can skip this one, but i've read a couple of things recently that clicked a little bit for me, so i wanted to write 'em down.
one was a thoughtful summation by the new englander
about how impossible-to-quantify things like the amount of social trust that exists within a community can have a profound effect on its workings. another was a thoughtful forward of a washington post piece (yes, i know, conservative readers who know who you are, if it's in that liberal post rag thingy it's not normally to be trusted, but i'm putting an asterisk on this one because it was forwarded to me by the author of right-side-of-lowell
who swears he's not one of those L-word people, and i'm willing to take him at his word based on many things including his experienced-based preference for the f-16 over the f-15 for purposes of general geopolitical diplomacy). it should also be noted that mr. right was also the forwarder of the original piece that prompted mr. new englander to opine on his blog, so if you're looking to assess blame for having to put up with me opining this morning on my blog, i think you know where to start. ;-) the third
is on the front page of the lowell sun, where is told the account of an author's presentation in chelmsford of his experience building schools in afghanistan.
so where was i?
oh--for lack of a better word or two, "nation building".
see, i'm profoundly uncomfortable with the projection of american power overseas for social purposes. i get the wmd rationale, (were it only true instead of grounds for plausible war crimes charges in the hague regarding the us in iraq, but i digress), but i truly do not get how we feel like we can spread the virus of democracy via the point of a gun. (i LOVE the way the newenglander put it--"jamming the pointy end of an M-4 into someone's face and telling him to start reading tocqueville"). by way of explanation, i have read literally every book on the american revolution i have been able to get my hands on, and the things that have jumped most prominently out to me from those pages are that we had two extremely important things going for us here back in the 1700's that exist almost nowhere else in the world where democracy is lacking, either then or since.
the first is the rule of law. by this i don't mean the rule of power in the name of "law", (fascism by any other name that's not totalitarianism), but a true adherence to a set of written understandings that are (reasonably) fairly assessed for and against all regardless of station. in my definition this extends to land/home ownership and other enforceable and reliable property rights, as well as confidence in ones personal safety, both from criminals as well as the state. (nods back to the newenglander about how the absence of this necessarily destroys social trust, and my own righteous indignation that many people in gaza, as well as those in many urban us neighborhoods, can't go down to the corner store without the reasonable assumption of being harmed). here's it's also noteworthy to observe that such (reasonably) fair assessments do not even have to be absolutely reasonable nor fair, as our own us constitution's slavery & 3/5's abomination, not to mention complete disenfranchisement of women, are hardly reasonable or fair by any stretch of even jesse helms' imagination, but we were still able to strive to continue to overcome both, and it seems to still be going in a positive direction, so fingers crossed and props to the founders.
the second is prevalent public education. again observing that this was hardly universal back in the us colonial day, it's still noteworthy to point out that the populace at large here was educated, and could read and form informed opinions about their situation, which is also not the case is most spots where democracy is absent in the world today.
so where does this leave us vis-a-vis the us military's massive social projects in iraq, afghanistan and elsewhere?
i would say, absent rule of law and a widely and consistenly educated population, we're spinning our wheels. we'd of course like to believe that everyone in the world believes in the same truth, justice and the american way ideals that superman and all of us do, but the truth of the matter is that inequities in the basics of property rights, personal safety and access to education (and resulting opportunity) are going to undermine us at every turn.
here's what i think: if i were living in iraq, or afghanistan, or gaza, or darfur, or most anywhere on the horn of africa for that matter, as well as countless other places in the world, i would put my interest in food, safety and shelter (after all, maslow's hierarchy gets into both of those long before it gets into self-actualized ideals of democracy and other ephemera) well ahead of whether or not me and my enemies down the street are able to trust ourselves far enough to settle our differences via plebescite. and if a foreign army showed up and told me how to go about getting that vote thing settled, i think myself and a whole bunch of my other thoughtful neighbors would still be on the fence about how to act, given that publically siding with the wrong bunch has been proven from experience to get folks killed quite reliably. (speaking of book learning, just looking out ones window at the aftermath of ied's, white phosphorous incendiaries, rocket-propelled grenades, land mines, cluster munitions, not to mention just plain old bullets, is, i'm sure, a very educational experience).
so anyone who tries to sell me "welcomed as liberators", or "spreading democracy", or any other of a number of extremely well-worn geopolitical phrases, is going to have an extremely tough sell on their hands. i simply do not buy it. yeah, it's theoretically possible, just like it's theoretically possible to police the mountains of afghanistan if you were given enough billion policemen, but the costs in terms of dollars, not to mention the lives and limbs of the best and the brightest of our armed services, who are, after all, simply the best and the brightest of our children and our brothers and our sisters and our parents, is far too high. far, far, far, far (a trillion fars) too high.
if we ought to be exporting anything, it ought to be, after food and shelter, the means for education. that's where it all starts. everything else among our high-minded ideals we should be looking at logs in our own eyes (katrina certainly wasn't anything over which to be proud) and providing all that sort of thing for our own people who still lack it. yes, we'll still be compelled (or at least we should) by humanitarian disasters in places like darfur and gaza to send the us marines and all their other service branch brethren to go and kick the unrighteous ass of all those who terrorize others at the point of a gun. but that's where it ends. in and out. just like kuwait was during bush sr's tenure. he always worried he should have "finished the job" straight into baghdad, but i say, observing the results of the cock-up by the fruit of his loins, he stopped his tanks at just about the right place. yes, the iraqi people deserved better for themselves than they were getting under saddam, but that's THEIR fight as long as they have a sovereign government against which they are not rebelling. (the point at which france came to our colonial aid, btw, and not before).
we won the cold war, after all, not through force of arms. (arms, also, i know, but not *force* of them--just the support of the threat/deterrence of them). continuing improvements in the lots in life of eastern europeans are not from itinerant nato or us nation-building armed invasions, but by trading with them the means to continue to make their own progress.
think back on all that we've been through with our own government. slavery for example. it took us a civil war and almost 150 more years after that before we saw a reflection of any measure of equality at the top of our power pyramid. but we're elbowing our way into places in the world which have had their present governments for far less of a fraction of that time and demanding of them more than we were able to achieve in almost 200 years. (180+ years before we even had voting rights fairly allotted). why do we think we can do that???