Thursday, April 06, 2006

To The Union

The world is a complex place. In the US there are all sorts of people and groups acting independently, whose motives are unknown, whose plans are unchecked, whose information is unlinked into the mass of American voters. For us, this has actually been a virtue. We have so many such entities in this country, scheming and plotting against each other that, for the most part, they balance each other out, doing damage for sure, but limited damage. Reasonably good decisions end up being implemented by the Law of Large Numbers, and the best interests of the nation are tolerably served.

The country is presently polarized on the issues of the invasion and occupation of Iraq and the "Global War on Terror". Now, you probably have chosen sides very firmly. Most people have, and once they pick sides, what happens? The answer is that they end up migrating into one echo chamber or the other. The forces of segregation are many and subtle, but people do separate, and when they separate they isolate themselves. Which is not so terrible if the groups are compatible or small, but it becomes a social risk over time. Think about the effects of the Protestant revolt from the Catholic Church. People are still dying from the results 500 years later. The current horrifying examples are the ongoing genocides in Africa, including this impending campaign that most people are unaware of.

So you must overcome the ill effects of these separations by forcing recombination at some level. In the US we do it at the top by means of national political institutions. Dissidents must recombine into one of the major parties in order to have any impact at all, and when they do, they must give ground -- painful but necessary. The other choices are surrender or surreptitious rebellion. An example of such forced combination would be the Dixiecrats who used to make up such an important and unnatural component of the Democratic Party. This alliance kept the liberals in power, but essentially prevented the end of the era of virtual slavery in the South. An example of surrender would be the post civil rights somnolence of the religious right. Politics,they thought, was a distraction and a temptation; we can't win at that game. They have since changed their point of view.

Open revolts, such as those by the Weathermen, Earth-Firsters, clinic bombers and the church burners in the South are usually suppressed quickly. More subtle attempts, such as the reign of J. Edgar Hoover in the FBI, can go on for decades. The Klan was, of course, the most successful. Still more subtly disguised revolts can be very hard to counter. I'm thinking about the Textbook Rebellion, growing stronger since the seventies. It may have reached it's high water mark in Dover, Pennsylvania, by overreaching, but it has had its way for decades, politically sanitizing public education without anyone noticing.

Some have pointed to actions by the MSM, such as the fortuituously exposed report by Mary Mapes/Dan Rather based on a forged document. The hidden bias of reporters supposedly represents an example of a subtle rebellion designed to thwart the will of the legitimately elected government. On the contrary, it may be that segregation of liberals into the MSM doesn't happen consciously, but represents a natural selection process that can't be directly countered by conservative efforts. It may be that a cabal of media elites reports directly to Jerusalem, or perhaps Moscow. I doubt it though. I'm personally a strong advocate of the free press, and I believe that the modern MSM news organization is not politcally biased, per se. I think that it is corporately biased towards two opposing forces: the desire for a good story that sells and the fear of offending any major part of the audience. As reporters move up the organization, these forces mold them into "liberals". I challenge any young conservative to follow the same route without becoming so molded.

The real secret rebellion is among those people who try to trick the MSM into reporting stories their way. Leakers, spinners, forgers and liars are the daily companions of the press. The world of reporters is indeed very complex, and fortunately it makes them skeptical, but even veterans like Dan Rather can be fooled. Of course Dan is from Texas, not Missouri. Did you remember he's from Texas? So is Walter Cronkite, though he was born in Missouri.

I consider myself a liberal, but I am in favor of the war. Since it was easy for me to decide, and since I am a liberal, I've kept my mind open, and I try to listen carefully to ideas from both sides of the issue. If you're also a hawk, you should take the time the read this article about a Lt. Col. who left the Pentagon due to the Iraq buildup, and this article about Bunny Greenhouse, both admirable individuals. After reading these pieces, please try to tell me that there are no cabals in the Bush administration.

On the other hand, just because you're paranoid, doesn't mean you don't have enemies. Those against the war should try reading this piece in the American Thinker, or this from the Washington Times, or the Phyllis Chesler essay I cited in January. Now tell me that we are going to be able to assimilate this culture into an international lovefest. Islamists are now participants in the American political free-for-all. Unfortunately they are inserting themselves through the mechanism of surreptitious rebellion, notably through organizations such as CAIR.

What should they be doing in Iraq? Right now the depredations of the extremists on many sides are leading to increased segregation. We're informed that families are fleeing from formerly happy homes in mixed neighborhoods into self-enforced ethnic ghettos. Things were better under Saddam, at least in this way. A ruthless central government made ethnic differences less important. Years ago, I knew an Arab who married a Kurd. Now, an Arab can't even get into the Kurdish parts of Iraq. You can easily see that people are self-segregating because of paranoia, paranoia induced deliberately by extremists. That's always been the tactic -- divide and conquer. In fact, the situations that allow for uniting of disparate groups have always been rare and precious. It takes statesmenship and determination to resist the natural tendency toward disintegration. That's what they need in Iraq.

In US cities there is, I believe, a tacit policy of pairing police officers who represent different demographic categories. The strong bonding that occurs between partners gives them a chance to understand each other better and to learn to use the diverse viewpoints and social knowledge to their mutual benefit. I think we should have formalized that practice when building the Iraqi Police and the Iraqi Army. I believe that what really happened is that the Police are mostly Shia and the Army is mostly Sunni. What diversification exists is usually across units rather than within. I don't know, maybe the need for rapid mobilization outweighs any touch-feely concerns for diversity enhancement, but proactive measures to enhance mutual assimulation (musimulation?) are necessary at some point to counter the centrifugal energy currently evident. I'll give as an example of successful fusion efforts that of the US Army, which has contributed very strongly to interracial understanding in the States.

The general principle for healing fissures is to foster connections at the lowest level rather than the highest. We have done very well in the US with the Philadelphia Compromise -- federalism and states rights, democratic principles and Constitutional protections, checks and balances. Nevertheless, the whole system is only one step away from failure. We should not have designed a system that pushes the resolutions of difference to the top, but rather forced them to the bottom. Abraham needs to shake hands with John and Mohammed, every day, every place.

4/6/2006 6:22 PM

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At Saturday, April 08, 2006 9:24:00 PM, Blogger Steve said...

I enjoyed reading this post, JJ, and the various links you provided. You're a thoughtful guy.

I was a little disappointed not to see M. Zuhdi Jasser's name (author of the Washington Times piece), among the names attached to the Muslim Manifesto, though.

To be fair, maybe he doesn't even know about it. I've heard nothing much about the Muslim Manifesto since it went up, and there are very few names there. (I wonder to what extent self-preservation plays into that glaring dearth.) He's in good company, though. I don't see Ayaan Hirsi Ali's name there either. Or Muhammad Ali's. Now that I think about it, though, I think Ayaan Hirsi Ali has rejected Islam, and maybe Muhammad Ali doesn't count (see the bottom of this page).

The American Thinker piece made me think back to the day about 30 years ago, when I browsed a book stand and Atlas Shrugged jumped out at me, demanding to be read. The title was the most compelling of any I'd seen, and in short order I was reading The Fountainhead, too. Rand was really something, though I didn't follow her much beyond that.

As usual, you have more hope than I can muster. To my way of thinking, for the sorts of impulses of interest here to be banished from humanity, myth has got to go, and there has to be an extension of morality as profound as that called for by Garrett Hardin in another arena. You can see why I'm pessimistic.

But what do I know?

Cheers from Phoenix!

At Sunday, April 09, 2006 3:15:00 PM, Blogger jj mollo said...

To me organization is key. Social movements change the world. It is true that individuals are important. Great souls like Ayaan Hirsi Ali can make a big difference. Jasser is interesting. He seems to be a voice in the wilderness though. another writer, Ahmed Subhi Mansour, an Egyptian Islamic scholar, has an assessment of the ideological battle, which he claims we will lose following our present course. He gives a simple prescription for changing our ways and learning to win. I agree with both points, but I also want to insert my perspective that our government is almost guaranteed to screw things up. The target I would aim at first is ourselves. How do we reorganize our thought parade so that the smart folks are marching at the front and the drummers in the back can still hear the trumpets?

Also IMO, most serious thinkers have at one time or another at least read and considered Ayn Rand. But individuals cannot solve everything. Franklins and Jeffersons make things happen a certain way, but Franklins and Jeffersons do not come from a vacuum. Neither do Osamas. There is a social structure as well as an intellectual environment that pushes these people up when they are needed. At least it doesn't hold them down, as our society seems to do.

At Sunday, April 09, 2006 3:24:00 PM, Blogger jj mollo said...

Oh, and thanks for the compliment.

At Monday, April 10, 2006 9:27:00 AM, Blogger mal said...

I think the extremists have learned to play the "difference" card and as you said have created ethnic barriers where they had once been weakened.

It is one of the oddities of our society that the multiplurality of our citiizenry across many interests have forced a "leavening" in our views and the extremeness of our politics. I am not sure if Madison was lucky or a genius, but it works for now. My fear is that we will continue to push these issues "upwards" and begin to accept the continued centralization in our government

At Monday, April 10, 2006 9:28:00 AM, Blogger mal said...

BTW....just read Steves comments and I agree....your posts are good and this is one is even better than usual

At Monday, April 10, 2006 11:06:00 AM, Blogger jj mollo said...

Mallory, Thanks also. This subject is getting near to what I feel most strongly, so I appreciate your support.

To differ a bit, I really have no trouble with central power. I want a strong central government that is able to impose its will. It's just that I want it to be our government, not just an electable government, not just the fittest government in an environment of all against all, the best backstabbers, apple-polishers and doublespeakers in the game. I also want to have strong sub-governments up and down the line -- strong but true to the people.

The natural trend without strong government is dissolution and promotion of the most extreme points of view. Bullies and lunatics. Most of us spend grade school learning how to overcome these people. We band together, and we do it across lines, whatever those lines might be, because we recognize that we have more in common with those who are different than with those who are disruptive.

Iraq was like a grade school where a crazed gunman was in charge. There was definitely no running in the hall. Now it's like a grade school where the teachers are afraid to interfere with the violent children. Politics in the US is more like a mass football game with strict rules where people of one persuasion or the other line up against each other. The only thing that keeps the game civilized, though, is that each team needs to recruit players from the other team and can't afford to alienate or injure potential switchers.

We have been very lucky with the multiplicity of groups, at least in the North. The South cultivated homogeneity for a century. The best part, I think, has been the public school system, where the melting pot took place. Even the parochial schools threw together people from diverse cultures. That means that the diversity was concentrated at the lowest levels. Kids abuse each other, but they also make accommodations. They confront each other, wear down the mechanisms of isolation, expand their worlds, learn to identify the universal kinships. The leaders of such groups are honest leaders with natural legitimacy. Wouldn't you want your government to arise organically from that kind of soil? The US Army has also been a great integrator of cultures, but it fails on the democracy aspect.

Madison was lucky, but so were Bush and Cheney. Madison was a genius, but maybe Ralph Nader is also, and a thousand others. Lucky people may have no merit, and the best thinkers and potential leaders of the day may have no influence. The intelligence network that informs national policy may be available only to those who don't know how to use it. How do you connect that top layer with the bottom layer I described above? I don't want grass roots, I want tree roots.

At Tuesday, April 11, 2006 9:17:00 AM, Blogger mal said...

JJ, I do not fear central power per se as much as I fear those who seek power. Some one argued once that the most effecient form of government is a benevolent dictatorship. The problem as always is how the successor is selected and what are that persons qualities. I think of Nixon who I suspect entered office with the noblest of intentions but fell into his own sense of empowerment.

At Tuesday, April 11, 2006 10:38:00 PM, Blogger jj mollo said...

I have heard that theory about benevolent dictatorship. I've thought about it off and on. I think it depends on how open the individual is to new ideas and how much he delegates. The most effective form of government is going to be the one that concentrates the greatest variety of viewpoints, has access to the broadest spectrum of wisdom, without developing a preference for the outlandish. Napoleon may have been a genius, but he was not a good leader because he didn't know when to stop.

At Tuesday, April 11, 2006 10:41:00 PM, Blogger jj mollo said...

It is the system, the particular patterns of pressures and temptations, that undermines our leaders, not their individual qualities.


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