Wednesday, April 07, 2010

The Long War

In the press of daily business, it’s easy to forget that the big picture matters more. (Yogi: “In the long run, we’ll all be dead.”) But in the long run, the most powerful social forces will have their way. (“The arc of history is long, but bends towards freedom:” MLK Jr.)

I don’t mean “Long War” in stupid sense favored by Bush-ites: a turd-polisher to cover the inanity of America’s never-ending wars. I mean it in the sense of the long war to obtain social justice. (WARNING: GLENN BECK DISAPPROVES! A LOT! “SOCIAL JUSTICE CODE FOR …SOCIAL JUSTICE! HOW EVIL!)

If you want to know what the future of our society is, take a look way back into history. Many of our social conventions – the role of “women” in society (in quotes because most of the claptrap about “women” is about rich white women), the sudden reverence of blasto-cyst Americans (anti-abortion), the “problem” of unemployment, etc. – are modern constructs. Early humans struggling to survive didn’t have much of a concern for “creating jobs.”

Many of our current social problems are traceable to the rise of modern conservatism. The key idea of that movement is not only that private enterprise is the only legitimate social structure, but that the government is the enemy of private enterprise and therefore legitimate social order. Government is bad because it re-distributes money from the wealthy to everybody else, both directly by taxation and indirectly by making it harder to become rich (for example, by outlawing child labor or limiting pollution). In fact, it’s the government-hatred that really defines modern conservatism, as veneration of the wealthy can occur without it (think “Lifestyles of the Rich & Famous,” or People Magazine).

Failing schools. Failure to invest in R&D. Corporatism run amok. Lack of health care. Global warming. World poverty. Lack of water. The list of our ills goes on and on, and in most cases, can be traced back to a lack of adequate government action/investment by those who have the resources. (It’s a phenomenon that I’ve been thinking of “passionate devotion to wrong ideas.”) A strong government, especially a democratic government, is the best hope that non-wealthy people have to fight the rich and powerful.

The President is in the news today because he is thinking of tackling the Israel-Palestinian crisis directly. (Would that problem be so intractable if wealthy Arabs contributed to the Palestinians’ relief at something like adequate levels?) And here’s the “Long War” part: the Middle East situation is (obviously) not sustainable. A hundred years from now – or two hundred, or a thousand – the fights of today will be forgotten and a new set of issues will be thought to be important. Some kind of settlement – equilibrium – will be reached, the only question is how, when, and what kind. (The future’s coming – no way to stop it!) Will a nuclear bomb obliterating Tel Avis kick off a conflagration that will consume millions of lives for years and years? Will a popular revolution in Iran lead to a new Middle East leader who lays the groundwork for a cooperative diplomatic union that ushers in an era of peace? Will the Americans and Europeans force their clients to accept a deal that the clients themselves eventually come to see as the end of their enmity? Of course, the one thing I can say for sure is that factors that we currently aren’t considering or seeing (“known unknowns” – D. Rumsfeld) will play a major role in events, but that in the long-run, the unsustainable will not, in fact, be sustained.

The rich exploit the poor, the powerful the weak. It’s been true forever, and ain’t going to change any time soon. However. However…there’s a certain back-and-forth, and over the long haul, the poor and the weak are doing better and better. The long arc of history favors the just, no doubt. The question for our public policy makers is what are the best ways forward. Should we let Iran be bombed by Israel? Should the government raise tax rates? Should the US government pledge to re-build Haiti? The actual outcomes of many of today’s important debates is a foregone conclusion. Over the long-haul, the poor will be raised up (a bit), the greatest injustices will be adjusted, etc. But getting there can be hard or easy, take forever or just a week, be destructive or constructive – in short, the means are how we will be judged. We All Know(sm) what the ends are.