March 19, 2007

Activism

I've been thinking a lot about war and poverty lately. Mostly this stems from debates over Iraq, environmentalism, and of course, the ensuing discussions (and naturally, arguments) over pacifism. I hate the term pacifism. Mostly what it tells me - and this is just my own connotation - is that we shouldn't do anything. When I hear the word "pacifist" the first thought that comes into my mind is "let it take care of itself, I protest any action." Often, pacifists are the worst protesters there are. Their solution to any dilemma is to protest what's already being done, instead of coming up with an actual solution to the problem and then enacting it themselves. In other words, it's another version of the "If Nuts" conundrum: "somebody else other than me should figure out a better solution because they're doing it wrong."

And so they write long treatises against Bush, because it's obviously all his fault. Or they make cutesie signs at protests, believing that in protesting, they are enacting some sort of change, that they're doing their duty as a citizen to help the world. And so lots of money spirals down the drain in now TWO ways - for the mis-led (or as I prefer "could-be-done-better") war in Iraq AND in the campaign against it. Lots of money wasted instead of being fed towards solutions. Not to mention the time we put towards bashing one side or another that could've been spent on a solution.

Now, I'm aware of the irony: here I am protesing the protesters wasting more time. And so let me say this - I have begun working on a solution. It's no just "let's just figure out a nice little government that will WORK instead of Bush's moronic ideas (but I won't tell you what because I don't know)." It's something I believe will work. Here goes.

First, we have to recognize as a nation that the war isn't getting the immediate results we were hoping for, but that it's also not necessarily a bad thing - this stuff takes a LOT of dedication and time, especially if we want it to last. You only get out of it what you put in, as it were.

Second, we have to come to understand the
complex nature of things, and being looking at ALL the factors in each equation and proposed solution. There are many warring factions in the middle east - not just two sides (the pacifists seem to say it's an "us vs. them" sort of problem, and so the pacifists become the "us vs. us"). There are Sunnis and Shiites and Kurds and Arabs and Muslims and Americans and Jews and Palestinians and each and every one is tied up in the conflict somehow. We need to start focusing our efforts on unwinding and untangling the strings of conflict to find their source. I have a hunch that the source is pure old fashioned inbred-hatred, but research probably needs to be done.

Third, the best way to ... ah, currey favor, as it were ... is to put monetary efforts into relief supplies. It's easy for Al Quaeda and the various other "insurgents" (terrorists) to prey on the people's fears of America or the UN or whoever because they've been told we're evil; and then we go bomb them and lo and behold, it's a self-fulfilling prophesy. What if we bomb them with beefaroni and minute maid and poland spring and canned green beans and band-aids and hydrocortisone and all the relief support we can (doctors, nurses, aid workers, counsellors). Flood the region with all that excess food the US produces and then destroys to keep farmers in business. Mind you, this has to happen sensitive to the culture - we have to be careful we don't violate muslim or jewish dietary laws or something. The military still plays a part - they protect the relief workers.

And then we do that for a while. Conservatives will point out that we are still the largest contributor of relief supplies to the region, but I say that just because we contribute the most doesn't mean we contribute enough; and so we have to keep sending more food and medical relief and water and whatnot. Maybe some shade; people who live in deserts always need more shade, so maybe a few tents and tarps and poles to put the tarps on, and tables on which to put the waterbottles under the tarps.

Then we start aiding the industry, helping people find jobs and build their own self-determined infrastructure; unless this whole thing is ultimately Iraqi-determined, it won't last. We've been trying to establish government, but I'm not sure that a government exactly like the US is really going to work; their concept of freedom isn't necessarily the same as ours, and so maybe what we need to do is contextualize the democratic process to middle-eastern standards. Maybe one president isn't enough, maybe we use the swiss concept of seven rotating presidents, all elected, all able to keep each other accountable to the people.
It's not the best plan, but it's a start. I think it's got a lot of room to grow. Comments appreciated. We can't just say "do better" without suggesting a plan of action, and I'm sorry, but simply pulling out of Iraq and ignoring the problem is not a plan of action; that's pacifism, and it's not going to work. Letting them duke it out amongst themselves will only end more lives; they won't stop just because we're gone. To sit back and do nothing is not an option: we as a nation have to pull together and begin contributing TOGETHER to a solution, or else peace in the middle east is ultimately out of our reach.

6 comments:

Rob said...

Good entry - I think the real issue with Pacifism is that - it's the "do nothing" approach.

I liked Mark Steyn's comment:
""She [a caller] had just told me that “we’re all in this together. I don’t care if you’re Jewish, Christian, Muslim, Buddhist.” Good for you. Unfortunately, they do care. In Gaza, in Sudan, in Kashmir, in southern Thailand, they care very much. But the great advantage of cultural relativism is that it absolves you of the need to know anything. For, if everything’s of equal value, why bother learning about any of the differences?"

Gets that some of this is really just a "head in the sands" approach.

As to your solution I'll gladly insert my two cents.

A) Complexity = good - and realizing that is a good thing. Hence why I like so much of that Chricton speech you linked to.

B) I will jump in and say we do give more aid than anyone - though I do think we can do more - and I figure it can't hurt to do more.

C) The corollary to that is something I think you should do before helping industry.

We need to be proactive in IW (information warfare) - we talk a lot about winning the hearts and minds - but we could be doing SO much more. We need Radio-Free Europe style push in the Middle East. Arabic news pushing our points of view - we need to do more of that. Instead of being reactive, we need to be proactive.

D) As for industry I really think we need to work on government first. Heck Egypt, for instance, has had amazing industry and support from the Soviets for years and years. They really didn't do much for the average citizen.

Industry - and a growing standard of living - will help - but it need s to come with the freedom needed to best harness the power of capitalism.

So I think you have a start there - but we always need to remember the complexity. You don't get the rising boat of prosperity without a lot going into it. Heck the only reason we succeeded so well in Germany/Japan was because all the hard work (human capital) had already been produced. We just ensured they weren't at war and let them loose.

But, I think it does help to diminish the dumb arguments:

From the left: 1) Stop supporting Israel and peace 2) Sign Kyoto and get peace 3) Become Pacifist (whatever that means) and get peace

Or from the Right: 1) Rubble doens't make trouble (bomb anything that is a threat and then leave it) 2) Stop supporting Israel and get peace (paleoconservative position)

A. Annie said...

One factor missing in your analysis is that most of this violence has to do with oil. Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait and we and others "rescued" that country promptly. China invaded Tibet in 1959 and has stayed there ever since with nary a peep from the world. What is the difference? Oil. Plain and simple. Why was Bin Laden so upset with the US? He was upset because we placed our troops on Saudi soil during that intervention. Where do the terrorists get their money? Oil.
Imagine the shift of dynamics if we move our economy away from an oil based economy to domestically produced, sustainable sources of energy. Imagine also if we taught the rest of the world how to have their own clean, renewable sources of energy. When I lived in the Philippines, the locals had a crisis whenever the dollar increased in value. They have to buy their oil in dollars. Since the economy was so dependent on oil for transportation, we had wild swings in inflation. In one two-week period, the price of just about everything doubled, just because the peso was devalued. Think what good could be done for smaller economies if they could produce their own energy from clean sustainable sources? Think about the good will that could be generated if we were the ones to lead the way and help them. This is one piece of several in the puzzle, but a major one, I feel, and one that anyone can advocate and take action on now. I know you frown on slogans but here's one I agree with: Energy independence is homeland security.

Chris said...

the oil thing is a good point, though I think I'd shy away from saying it's the *whole* story. but you're right, it's definitely a major player and I think plenty of people tend to downplay its role too much. on the other hand, I think we have to be careful not to move TOO quickly, like we did with solar. the technology wasn't ready for mass adaptation but commercialism took over and it got mass-marketed as the solution to all our power needs before it could handle it, and effectively disappeared. I know my grandparents use it to supplement their power use, but even today it's still not very efficient.

If only cold fusion was a reality ... that's going to revolutionize things when we figure out how to make it work effectively ...

A. Annie said...

I have 2 friends who have recently adapted their houses to go completely solar. They even feed energy back into the grid and are paid for that excess. I have another two friends that are "off the grid" completely. Several other acquaintances and friends have homes that are partially solar. The electricity for our house comes from wind power. It's not the future - it's here now. The reason that fewer solar systems were built in the 80's is that Reagan took away the tax incentives. Your grandfather built the solar hot water system on the NY house in the 70's, in part, because the tax incentives helped shorten the payback. Many of the solar systems built in the 70's are still functional today and I see them around my neighborhood. Costs are coming down all the time. We have enormous subsidies for centralized power and the oil-based economy. It's time to shift that over to clean, decentralized, sustainable power sources. We have already reached "peak oil production" in the world - meaning we will never have more production than what we have today. We have to shift the economy eventually. Why not sooner rather than later? See: Winning the Oil Endgame by Amory Lovins et. al. http://www.oilendgame.com/ReadTheBook.html

Chris said...

As I said, part of the problem is that many agencies promote other sources of energy. I'd like to see the use of solar energy go up, though I don't think that it's as useful for some areas as it is for others. Take upstate NY for example. It's cloudy a lot. Solar energy works when there's a lot of sun. Cloudy places are the sorts of places where cold fusion or maybe even (someday) antimatter might work better. I know, it's a dream, but it's technically possible with more developed technology, and they're both very clean; especially fusion, where the only output is water (and oxygen, I think).

Now, solar would work well in the middle east, but that requires a lot of investment on our part with little return (go figure), and that's when politics take over. The irony is that oil is such a big business in the middle east, yet they don't use it as much for electrical power so much as they sell it and use it for political power. I do have to agree with you in that regard; while I actually think that Oil is still useful (for lots of commercial polymers, not so much for power), I have to say I'd rather see more environmentally friendly power sources used.

I heard once that they were trying to think of a way to make geosynchronous orbital solar stations work, so that they could then beam power down to ground stations. The satellites would be efficient, catching the solar energy before it got filtered through the ozone, but the issue was then getting it down to the ground. I'm fairly sure they gave up the project, it's still in the same train of thought as a space elevator or moon colony.

You say "why not sooner than later". I'm thinking that it's going to have to be both; a gradual shift, as it were, rather than a mass-policy change. Big sweeping changes don't usually take hold very well, new innovations need time to work through the market and reach a critical tipping point before they can then distribute to the rest of the market out of necessity rather than out of "because I felt like it". The trouble for innovations like solar power is that they're a preventative innovation, preventing environmental damage. Now I know we could argue about whether or not this is yet the case, but frankly most people still don't see the environmental damage caused by coal and oil power plants, and certainly they don't see it from nuclear plants. In their current mindset there's also the problem of consumerism in the way, since the oil industry is a driving factor in the global market economy. And so they'll have a hard time adopting any environmentally-friendly adaptation until it's either too late or until enough people are convinced of its usefulness to "swing the tide", as it were. A good book for this is "Diffusion of Innovations", by a guy named Roberts (I think).

A. Annie said...

-Just a couple of items for thought: Abrupt industrial changes are possible. U.S. automakers switched in 6 years from 85% open wood bodies to 70% closed steel bodies—and in 6 months from making four million light vehicles per year to making the tanks and planes that won World War II.

My friend with the completely solar house tells me that she gets plenty of electricity on cloudy days. Their output on cloudy days is enough for their needs. Battery backups can provide storage for uninterrupted power for days or even weeks depending on the system.

Ever heard of the band Big Head Todd and the Monsters? They have an off-the-grid studio and have produced several recordings using only solar energy. Their sound is electric guitar, electric bass and very loud.
Another option for your neck of the woods: geothermal. Aunt Wende's house is heated that way.

California is not waiting. The governor just launched the California solar initiative with about $350 million in incentives to reach the goal of one million new solar roofs over the next 10 years.