3.28.2010

dialogue with a former colleague


colleague:

Hey Dan; saw this [article] online and wanted to share. Hope you will agree (even as we philosophically and politically differ) to dedicate at least one status update to non-violence and peaceful dialog in the political process. As tensions rise approaching mid-term elections, we really need rational cool heads on both sides of the aisle to *do* right above their notions of *being* right. To sweeten the pot, I'll follow suit. Maybe we can co-write a non-partisan committment to send via Facebook on this point? Anyway, hope this finds you well.


me:

We do agree on a fundamental issue: The initiation of force is morally wrong. (Though we may disagree on the definition of force.) A point on which I do not know if we agree is whether force is ever morally permissible. My answer is a resounding yes. Force to defend yourself, to protect your life and your rights, is not only morally permissible; it's morally mandatory.

The point under contention, then, is whether the angry protestors (75% from the right, 25% from the left) are initiating force or responding to force initiated by the government. (I know we disagree on the government's "right" to use of force to achieve its ends--i.e., I only think its permissible in the defense of individual rights. If I don't comply with the new health care legislation, for example, even though I think it's evil, I will be fined. If I don't pay my fine, I will be arrested. If I refuse arrest, the government reserves the right to take me by force. If I resist their force, the government reserves the right to end my life. In this instance, then, it is the government that initiates force via a threat. For more on this topic, I suggest Amit Ghate's article.)

As I hope I've pointed out, it is clear to me that the government has initiated force against its citizens. And as I explained in a recent blog post, it's not hard to see why some people snapped.

Yet somehow I'm personally not compelled to retaliate with violence, and I argue in that same post that my personal judgement of our federal situation, while dire, does not justify the people threatening and attacking politicians.

Our country is experiencing a philosophical and political Dark Age that does not bode well for our future. Yet it's my optimism that tells me to keep fighting the ideological battle. I am not personally convinced that a violent revolution is in order, nor do I think one will (or should) occur while some semblance of our Constitution still lives. (The recent Citizens United case was uplifting, for instance.)

But don't mistake me for a pacifist. It is not outside the realm of possibility that politicians (both from the left [economically] AND right [morally]--though I only separate economics and morality to highlight the different parties' choice of controls) will become so dictatorial that the only option and only morally justifiably action would be a revolt.

This long, nuanced response is meant to clarify exactly where I stand on the issue--not to explicitly refute anything you wrote in your original message. If from my response you think we have enough ideological common ground to unite behind a message, then I'm completely willing. I must admit, though, that I'm skeptical. We're coming from such different places philosophically that agreeing on a message that satisfies both of our consciouses may prove impossible.


colleague:

I am glad to hear that you are doing well and trust you understand that, although we disagree fundamentally on politics and philosophy, I bear you no ill will. If anything, I admire your spirit and courage in pursuing your ideals. I hope and prey you do so peacefully and with love and charity in your heart.

Having reviewed your post, I simply think we value things too differently to reach an immediate consensus. That doesn't mean it is not worth a shot. I find some of your comments, frankly, scary. However, I am going to constrain my response just to those areas I feel are needed to move us along towards an agreeable common ground.

By which means is a greater impact felt? Violence and hatred or love and tolerance? I suggest the latter. Both are forms of force. Look into the face of a child. If you cannot find a pull to care, you cannot call yourself a human. That pull to care, desire to help, and love for fellow human can compel action as surely as a club. This notion pre-dates america and finds broad religious support in all abrahamic traditions (judiasm, christianity and islam).

What I advocate is a force no less powerful than the sword or gun. By all means, pursue your agenda and I will pursue mine. We each believe what we are doing is the better way of supporting our fellow Americans. You say universal government health care is socialism and socialism is wrong. I say universal government national defense is socialism and no less wrong than universal care of health (provided the ability to project military force is used prudently and sparingly, something we seem poor at late of doing). In short, I favor a strong central government "of and by the people" as so advocated by Lincoln, when Gettysburg was declared a site at which "new freedoms" were consecrated beyond words' ability to do so. However, I do not ask you to join in that fight (if anything, I suspect you'll work against this agenda: which is fine). We will have to agree to disagree on politics. That won't change. We probably also will not agree on "when" "which" force is "justifiable" in our eyes.

The statement with which I agree - one which I suspect you will feel the same - is "we must come to see that peace is not merely a distant goal that we seek, but a means by which we arrive at that goal. We must pursue peaceful ends through peaceful means." (Martin Luther King, Jr.). King certainly attacked policies he found questionable. Force was certainly applied. Change ultimately happened. However, he took a position of love and tolerance. All it cost him was his mortal life.

I wonder...can we do the same? Can we find the value of human dignity and life more important than our personal political or philosophical views? I would like to think so. If not...if two well educated, rational minds cannot forge consensus on such a basic paradigm, then I truly do fear for the future of our nation.


me:

To respond to some of your claims:

Choosing to do something--e.g., give to charity--is ABSOLUTELY NOT the same as my government forcing me to donate. Choosing to "love" my "fellow man" is ABSOLUTELY NOT the same as my government telling me to do so at the point of a gun. Who is the government (or anyone, for that matter) to tell me what I should or should not do? My very nature as a rational being dictates that I must make decisions for myself in order to flourish. The government cannot think for me, and they shouldn't try.

And to your point about loving fellow humans, I have to say that indiscriminate love of humanity debases the concept of love. I certainly feel no hatred toward "mankind" in general, nor do I feel particularly threatened by them or look down on them in any way. But neither do I love them simply for their existence. I do not love any groups because groups do not have (chosen) values. Only individuals have (chosen) values, so I can only love individuals. At best, I am indifferent to the whole of "humanity"--whatever that means. More so, I don't think of humanity as a collective. I think only of individual humans, making individual choices, furthering their individual lives.

And to your point about looking into the face of a child, I can only say that what I feel depends on the context of the situation. I certainly see potential whenever I see children. And I do "care" about their future. That's why I fight every day for freedom--both mine and theirs. But no one's requirement for life, not even a child's, gives them a right to enslave me. Because a child needs something, does not mean he or she may take it from me or anyone else. If I saw a child starving on the streets, would I do something about it? Absolutely (if I am able). But only because I CHOOSE to do so. Because I have used my rational mind to determine that it's the right thing to do within a given context. (Me and my family have long donated to Shriners Hospital for Children for the same reasons.) But no one has a right to force me to do something--even if that something is the proper thing to do.

To respond to the issue of denouncing the use of force:

Within a proper context--one where rights are secured by a Constitution and the enemies of those rights do not have rationality on their side--then, yes, I agree with King's quote. He fought for rights that were guaranteed to him the day the Constitution was ratified. His enemies were irrational, emotion-driven hate mongers who had no legitimate arguments. Contrast his struggle, though, with the founding of this country.

Yet this argument about the proper use of force is getting away from the point at hand, since I don't think our current political context is the time to use force anyway--though I recognize why people might think so.

Please believe me when I say that I've done A LOT of thinking and reading on this topic since you messaged me yesterday. When people present interesting ideas I often obsess over them. (I've been unable to write the two columns I was supposed to this weekend because of my dedication to this topic.) And the more I read about the "threats" and "violence" coming from either side, the more I'm convinced that the entire thing is being blown hugely out of proportion by a news media (almost literally) dying to sell their product. I grant that there have been legitimate threats and actual attacks (the brick through Rep. Slaughter's window and Rep. Cantor's office being shot at come to mind). But from my reading of reports, the VAST majority of what the left and right are complaining about is bunk. Congressmen are quoted as receiving threats without any attribution. Newspapers run stories about "vile" words being thrown around yet provide no proof.

From what I can tell, Detroit New's columnist Nolan Finley nails it when he writes, "Most of what is being passed off as menacing is nothing more than old-fashioned hate mail. Much of it is crude and offensive, a lot of it is inappropriate, but it doesn't rise to the level of a threat. [...] Hatred has been part of politics for some time. Ask former President George W. Bush about his mail. Bush loathers even made a movie fantasizing about his assassination."

I don't know about you personally, but I certainly didn't hear the left in general denouncing threats against Bush. (Note: I am not a Bush apologist.)

One final point: If you're asking me to denounce hatred in general, then I can't do that either. Hating what is evil is a proper response--as long as you have rational arguments as well. In fact, I hate this health care bill and the mentality of control in general. I believe it to be pure evil to force someone to do anything they have rationally concluded is wrong--within the context of their own life (i.e., as long as their action does not infringe on the rights of others). As far as I'm concerned, Pelosi, Reid, and Obama have committed a much greater "sin" against the general public than the public has against them by using "vile" language.

Ultimately, I don't think we can come to a consensus on something I see as a non-issue. Yes, of course, attacking politicians within out current political context is wrong. (We are not a dictatorship--yet.) That violence is wrong in the few instances where it occurs is, I think, a given within our national political debate. But this idea that we must unite behind a message of non-violence as we approach the midterm elections just seems like a political sidestep to me. If the left is truly baffled by the public's hatred of a bill that forces them, at the point of a governmental gun, to purchase health insurance (from one of those EVIL insurance companies), then they are even more disconnected from reality than far right-wing Christians. And that's scary.

...

You are certainly within your right to respond, but please note that this will be my last correspondance on the issue. I've given it all the thought I think it deserves. Our basic philosophical premises are so radically different that I would not be comfortable coming to a consensus.


colleague:

In regards to your point that this may be a non-issue invented by the media, I can but hope you are right. There may simply be alarmism in play. Generally, I can shake such nonsense off. But when either side - so called "right" or "left" - creates a "moral" justification to harm another, an alarm should ring loudly. I really don't care if it is the weather underground or some faction of the tea party. I fear and sense it may be coming.

My friend, I am concerned that you have taken the first steps down a road best not travelled. You have said you will not correspond any more on the issue. Your message implies you are unwilling to work with me because I see and think differently than you do. You have repeatedly framed my attempts to reach a consensus on the basic questions of life with a perverse logic juxtaposing freedom with greed, evil with rule of law, "a" public as "the/your" public. Your argument undermines a service to humanity in favor of self-service. In time, youthful zeal can give way to wisdom. I know not what has so twisted your world view, but from what I can see, you are truly lost.

Reconsider and, when you do, know that you have an ally. Peace be onto you, my friend.


colleague

Hmmm...today's top suggestion: make friends with you. I apparently have been cut from your friend list. It is unfortunate that my efforts to build consensus on a very basic issue - non-violence - resulted in being "dumped." And we wonder why there isn't more bipartisanship :).

My words were strong, but so too were yours. I still believe (and hope) you are a friend.

Rise above, young Daniel, and incorporate a morality of greater value than property ownership. Combat true injustices, not the Sarah Palin/Glenn Beck-esque fear of "socialism" behind every corner. Join the "good fight" in addressing intolerance, cruelty and poverty. "Reload" not your hatred of those whose words will disagree with yours on the comparatively small issues of taxation, but care for your fellows as you wish they would do for you. Remember the words of Gandi "a coward is incapable of exhibiting love; it is the prerogative of the brave." Or if you would prefer a 'good ol' American voice, consider the words of Jimi Hendrix: "When the power of love overcomes the love of power, the world will know peace.” To harken back to 18th century American thought, a period near and dear to your heart I know, Ben Franklin once said "There was never a good war or a bad peace.”

I (still) respect and admire your spirit, and hope you will find comparable feelings for mine.

3.17.2010

They passed me on the elevator, no doubt on their way to the top, a murder of aspiring laywerettes whose heals all made the same flittering rap on the buffed lobby tile. Each had her hair in a respectable bun with faux chopsticks protruding above her air--two antennae intercepting unwelcome transmissions. Her suit was gray and her's light gray--while her's was grayish gray and the one to her right: dark gray with gray trim. They chattered so lightly--their words like gnats buzzing at the entrance to my ears yet lacking the confidence to invade. "Like"s abounded and "Totally"s weren't left out, yet most of their words might as well have been the whir of a boxfan or the hum of a florescent bulb. It wasn't until the elevator door made its triumphant pass that I noticed the silence in the lobby. How comfortable I was with it! Sartre said that "Hell is other people" and from the tone of this post you may be inclined to think he and I intellectual brethren.

And you would be wrong.

3.07.2010

A mind whose honesty outpaces its curiosity--even with the latter intent in catching its apocryphal rival--draws tragic conclusions from ersatz information. Induction serves you well--better than most--yet you're still a social metaphysician, constructing your reality, in part, from the lips of others. No more than you would permit poison into your diet should you allow whim into your reasoning.

It's the "I-issue," the great alter of self-esteem. Unlike its liturgical counterparts, this alter allows no sacrifices--neither yourself to others nor others to yourself. Others, in no context, are its purpose. "I" exalts man by focusing his attention to the proper subject--the only being worthy of worship. "I" defends against evil by allowing it no sanction and no alms. "I" produces value as the master architect of life's necessities and pleasures.

For the inviolable and uncompromisable. For moments of spiritual transcendence--properly understood.  For values.

Determine and defend them as if they're the only things that matter--because they are.