FernWithy (fernwithy) wrote,
FernWithy
fernwithy

Left, Right, self-blame, and brow-beating

Okay, my current round of Conservasites seems to have a few articles on the blame-America-first attitude of the opposition. "In that regard," writes Victor Davis Hanson, "for the moment George Bush is a godsend. His drawl, Christianity, tough talk, ramrod straight strut — all that and more become the locus of our fears: French and Germans on the warpath? They must have been Bushwhacked, not angry that their subsidized utopia — from a short work week, looming pension catastrophe, and no national defense — is eroding. Bombs going off in Manhattan or stuck in a tunnel while cops search every truck? Either way, Bush is the problem. Either he foolishly went into Iraq and let down our guard, or he is trying to scare us into believing that a nonexistent terrorist is under every bed..."

The general conservative opinion of this is that it's just short of treason (or, if you're Ann Coulter, over the line), maliciously siding with enemies because of self-hatred or--more likely--arrogant hatred of one's neighbors. Either that, or it's mentally unbalanced. The general liberal opinion of it is that it's more sophisitcated and nuanced than the "cowboy" approach of the right, more willing to accept self-doubt. Certainly, it's the "smart person's" approach.

As usual, I find both positions wrong.


That Americans tend toward the isolationist isn't debatable. It's part of our history from the start, with Washington himself warning us about getting into foreign entanglements. Left with a choice, Americans are likely to sit down in front of the TV, pop open some suds, and watch the game, and can't figure out why the rest of the world doesn't just do the same thing (or whatever the local variant is). That we've got our ugly side our greedy side is also quite true.

And quite irrelevant in the current situation.

By coincidence, cleverness, and a healthy dose of sheer dumb luck, we're leading the West in the eyes of the world. That we don't want to lead France, think that we need to step lightly around a unified Germany flexing its muscles, and are scandalized at the mere thought of dictating to Mother England doesn't matter--our infrastructure didn't get trashed in WWII, and that meant we got a leap ahead because of less time spent fixing that damage. The isolationists who would rather avoid these international problems altogether have ended up at the head of the table, and when people have a problem with The West, guess who's entangled?

(EDIT: Yes, of course that's oversimplified, and ignores the Cold War and its implications. But how we got where we are isn't the point, just a sidenote.)

With the Al Qaedists, it doesn't matter what we do. If we send tons of aid, we're trying to buy them off. If we send no aid, we're cruelly starving them. If we get involved, we're imperialists; if we remain isolated, we're arrogant. We've been cast as the devil in a doomsday scenario, and have no more hope of getting out by proper behavior than a Jew in 1939 could have avoided Auschwitz by learning to Sieg Heil with great enthusiasm. Our actual behavior is immaterial.

Now, the left's position is largely that this isn't the case--that we are responsible because of arrogance/racism/greed/whatnot. This is seen as the nuanced and sophisticated view.

I disagree with the position, obviously, but also with the opinion that it is more nuanced and other-directed. In fact, what it does is take the focus off of anyone but us. It's our fault, we did it, look at US, US, US. And it ignores the men attacking us altogether. After all, we of the current west can hardly be blamed for the loss of Andalucia (in the September 10 world, I think a lot of Americans--annoyingly--would have been hard-pressed to tell you where Andalucia was), and that's listed among the grievances that need redressing.

While I admit that there's some attraction in taking power away from terrorists by treating them as nothing more than creations of the west--puppets--I don't think it's a helpful approach to the situation. Ultimately, they are the ones who declared this war, which means that--short of total, abysmal defeat--they are the ones with the unilateral power to stop it. Taking that power away is not in anyone's interest.

On the other hand, the right has got to get a grip.

I don't mean about the terrorists. I think the right has more or less a good read on them. I mean about the left.

Since when is self-examination un-American? We've been doing it since the first Puritans landed and tried to figure out why things were going wrong. Crops are failing? We're not holy enough. Must be witches. Whatever. (Our poor Puritan ancestors have gotten a bad rap lately, but really, the notion of trying to achieve perfection and purity by moving closer to The Truth and away from Sin and Falsehood is as much a part of our lives now as it was then; we've just changed our opinion on what those things are.) Moving on, we see the Revolution, with unfailing patriots like John Adams defending British soldiers because they thought the mob had been in the wrong. It's the old ethos about ignoring the mote in thy neighbor's eye until the beam has been removed from thine own, and it's as American as the World Series and fireworks on the Fourth of July. Whenever anything happens, it's instinct to look at ourselves and say, "What did I do wrong?" That in the case of 9/11, it's equivalent to a rape victim weeping, "I knew I should have worn a longer skirt!" doesn't matter; it's still a natural reaction, just one that needs to be discouraged... although, to be fair, taking care not to walk down dark alleys alone isn't really bad advice, is it? Isn't that what a lot of the precautions boil down to?

And for that matter, oh friends on the right, don't you notice that you're doing the same thing with the physical world? Why were we attacked? Because we didn't have secure airports. Because we aren't keeping track of expired student visas. Because we fell asleep at the switch. We were defenseless then and it was our own fault and next time we will be ready.

That's really not all that much different from the belief that if we just play nice, everyone will get along and be our friend again.

Both positions are perfectly American--if we just work harder on improving ourselves (in whichever is the preferred manner), then that will solve the problem--and both are fundamentally misguided, as we are in reactive mode right now. We didn't start this war, no one wants to be in this war, and we wouldn't be fighting it if it hadn't been declared on us. We don't have the power to unilaterally stop it either by aggressive defense measures or aggressive moralizing, though I'll admit that the former can at least provide some kind of stopgap protection and the latter can force us to remember that we are responsible for how we behave within our reaction. (I firmly believe that if it weren't for our tradition of self-flagellation in place of vengeance, our nuclear arsenal would have been opened on September 12, and that would have been the worst possible scenario--I mean, honestly... if we were really driven by vengeance, the Sahara would be, in the words of a college friend of mine, "turned into a sheet of glass" by now. It's not like we don't have the firepower for it.)

Ultimately, both positions take the scary (but comfortingly familiar) stance that we have the power. That we are the ones in control of all of it. This is perfectly in line with the old Protestant ethos of self-reliance, and I don't think it's bad for the country. We could use better security, and there's never anything wrong with taking a good hard look at one's own morality. But I think we need to accept that neither approach is actually going to solve this problem, because the problem is not ours--we've just been cast in a role in someone else's drama. We're not writing the script here. All we can do is be the best we know how to be and take care of ourselves as well as we can. The journey in this story is going on elsewhere.
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