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 Practical Idealism, Political Philosophy, and Fairness

                                                                                                        Earth Manifesto Insights

                                                                                                              Dr. Tiffany B. Twain  

                                                                                                             November 2005

I hold the following truths to be self-evident.  Please consider them, and think about their implications for the world today.

Injustice breeds anger and frustration in its victims.  And anger and frustration lead to conflict, crime, and violence -- and a high potential for violence in reaction.  Terrorism is a desperate tool of the weak against the powerful, one that often seeks to pressure the powerful to mitigate the injustices of their actions.  It uses indiscriminate violence to gain attention, and sometimes it is successful in getting the causes that the terrorists champion to be effectively addressed.  It is destructive, yet it works sometimes because it uses the influence of pain inflicted and financial costs and resulting fear and insecurity to help achieve its goals.

Powerful people predictably react against terrorism in the same way they react to all threats to their dominance:  with moral outrage, self-righteousness, strong conviction, and great defensive and offensive violence.  The drive is strong for the privileged to be ruthless in protecting their prerogatives, position, and economic interests.  And they strive with great commitment and loyalty to suppress opposition -- ironically causing injustices not unlike those perpetrated by terrorists.

This creates a cycle of escalating conflict.  To break this cycle, we need committed and cooperative efforts and smart far-sighted initiatives.  In contrast, self-serving, myopic, power-obsessed, self-righteous, vindictive and authoritarian aggression only serves to exacerbate the situation.

We regard terrorist violence against the powerful as evil.  Violence against the weak is often regarded, in contrast as the status quo of capitalism, or competitive necessity, or self-defense, or dog-eat-dog competition, or proper discipline, or some perverse form of "just desserts".  C'est la vie, we say, as we figuratively look the other way.  Yet right and wrong are seen never to be absolute, and moral arguments are often contradictory or hypocritical or bigoted or dangerously divisive.

Would we not be better off to strive to find ways to cultivate friendships, rather than to make enemies?  Bullying, intimidating, goading, manipulating, punishing, bribing, thwarting and humiliating other peoples may prove to be less intelligent of us -- and far less safe and effective -- than listening to them, helping them, respecting them, working together, trying to understand, sympathizing with them, and demonstrating help and concern.  At the very least we should simply refrain from inflicting great injustices and harm on other peoples.  This is likely both the least costly and the most humanitarian course of action.

How can we truly see the truth of these words?  And can we gain any insight that will illuminate better courses of action?

History's most notorious terrorist, Osama bin Laden, told the world in a videotape just after 9/11 that Americans shall NEVER be safe as long as:  1) they support corrupt and repressive and dictatorial regimes in the Islamic world;  2) they give one-sided support to Israel against the Palestinians;  and 3) they impose American dictates on the Middle East through military might and brutal economic sanctions.  

Our leaders, of course, created Orwellian "doublethink" about the 9/11 attacks, saying that the attacks were due to Islamic fundamentalists "hating our liberties." They thereby framed the debate to gain support for their aggressive doctrine of preemptive war.

In reaction to terrorist actions and threats, we eagerly borrow hundreds of billions of dollars to spend on warfare, despite the obvious probability that it would be far cheaper and safer, in the long run, to strive for peace and goodwill amongst the nations of the world by mitigating the injustices that the powerful perpetrate through their economic exploitation, resource extraction, arrogant dominance, assertions of supremacy, and unfair, hard-nosed defense of the status quo.

Conflicts between countries can be seen to mirror situations in our societies that involve injustices caused by extreme disparities of wealth and poverty.  To solve social problems, conservatives believe that it is best to protect citizens and their privileges and property with authoritarian strength.  They consequently support harsh laws against crimes, and strict punishments.  They strive to maximize the amount of spending on police, prisons, the military, the FBI, the CIA, secret interdiction and enforcement efforts, and the military.  Conservatives insist that we should defend the status quo vigorously, opposing cooperative problem solving.  They are closed-minded in their doctrinal convictions, and unwilling to compromise.  They use fear to manipulate the populace into supporting their often authoritarian actions.

Progressives, in contrast, believe that the best protection of citizens is in balanced authority, laws that are just, fair initiatives of education and opportunity, prevention of the abuses of power by the federal government, progressive taxation, and social programs that mitigate the extremes of wealth and poverty.  Policies embracing these goals help reduce unrest and the danger caused by unfairness and injustice.  Progressives recognize that it is unwise to risk the stability and well-being of our society by cultivating ever-greater inequities in today's world.  

The reality is that there will be 50% more people on Earth within 50 years.  This makes almost all of our problems worse, and significantly intensifies conflicts.  We must not address these challenges with stubborn attitudes of self-righteousness, confrontational intransigence, and unwillingness to compromise.  We must respect the sovereignty of other nations!

The best political philosophy is arguably to be fiscally conservative and socially progressive.  On the other hand, it seems almost irrefutable that one of the worst political philosophies would be to be extremely fiscally irresponsible, and simultaneously socially reactionary.  The November 2004 elections bizarrely gave greater impetus to the latter tendencies.

Some friends of mine had a debate about the legacy that President George W. Bush would leave.  One felt that perhaps he would give primary consideration to a positive legacy for America in the next four years, one that is a bit more progressive than he has been representing.  Others scoffed at this possibility, and expressed sadness and anxious fear that he would continue to give the hawkish neoconservatives free reign, and allow the ruling right-wing to divide Americans more, and make the rich even richer and the poor poorer and the environment less livable.  They were concerned that the shallow drives of materialism and consumerism would become more prominent, and punishments harsher, and the disenfranchisement of progressives and minorities more pronounced, and the social safety net weaker.  They expressed the belief that the intolerance of others would become more embedded, and the rights of women fewer, and unrestricted gun ownership more irresponsible, and wars more terrible.  This, of course, would create ever-higher levels of frustration, anger, envy, humiliation, greed, violence and instability.  Not such a good plan, in my opinion!!

We are taking a great risk to suppose that we are superior to other countries and other cultures.  We are being foolish to think that our way of life and our government and our corrupted crony democracy, and our oddly anti-choice, death-penalty-supporting "culture of life" are better for others than what they have.  And it is preposterous to feel that our God is better and truer than the God others believe in.  It is arrogant to suppose, with our Western-civilization frame of reference, that we can clearly comprehend how people in other countries think and feel.  We do not know what is best for them, and we should not interfere in their internal affairs.   

Just as it would be wise to strive to eliminate the causes of crime, in addition to punishing the perpetrators, it would also be wise to address the causes of terrorism, and not just to confront the consequences.  Harsh reaction to terrorist attacks, instead of addressing the root causes of terrorism, only makes this problem worse.  It would make practical sense to find a way to commit ourselves with great resolve to making peace between Israelis and Palestinians, between the West and the Arabs, and between Christianity and Islam, before we destroy ourselves, and the planet, in a conflagration of conflict.

And make no mistake about it, I do not believe in any sort of rapturous End Times.  The Earth will still be making its 575 million-mile transit around the Sun for another billion years or two, and life will almost certainly survive for eons after we have driven our own species to extinction.  We are on course to take most species of life with us when we go, but as with the Permian and Cretaceous extinctions, life will resiliently bounce back and evolve into new species that can survive changing conditions.

It is sad that we are in such an accelerated hurry to burst our bubble, reproducing like an algal bloom that chokes itself off in an orgy of consumption, depletion, and pollution.  I recommend family planning and conservation and wise planning, but a rapid progressive revolution is needed if we want to preserve a fair quality of life for our species for even another 100 years.  One thousand years, anyone?  Ten thousand years?  How???

We should be trying to courageously make our best efforts to improve the world by starting at home:  improving our own country, and making our own citizen's lives better.  We should make this effort rather than attacking and occupying other countries.  We must give greater respect to the wisdom of the Golden Rule, and to the rights of others.  

We should balance the budget, embrace smart growth, educate our people, invest in America's infrastructure, and embrace renewable energy.  We should foster innovation, not consumption;  we should try to achieve better cooperation, rather than to aggravate conflicts;  we should seek partnership, not domination;  and we should become better stewards of the natural world, and not be increasingly reckless in our exploitation.

This is what I think and feel.  How about you?

                                                                    --- Dr. Tiffany Twain