Thursday, June 09, 2005

The Reign of Reason

This blog is my cry... my cry for a return to reasoned based argument and discussion in politics and public policy. So much of what we hear, read and see in the media is driven by emotion that facts simply get trampled.

Of course emotion has a role to play in any discussion: but when emotion, ideology and partisanship trump reason we risk the very foundation of our system of government. Why? Because fact-based reasoning is literally the foundation of a democracy.

Theocracy, dictatorship and communism and the like differ from democracy is that the former are all based on a belief in the right of the ruling class to rule (in the case of dictatorship, it may be only the ruler who believes this) while the latter is based on informed consent of those ruled. As the electorate gives up reason -- in favor of an abstract (or religiously based) belief in a leader's "mandate" – we put ourselves on a path of LESS accountability for our leaders.


When we forego reason and analysis we are really giving up democracy. This is really the basis of Thomas Jefferson’s statement: "Dissent is the highest form of patriotism." This statement and countless others by our founding fathers demonstrate that it’s our duty, as citizens of a democracy, to analyze and speak out about how we are being governed.

But today we find ourselves in a very different situation. For a variety of reasons dissent to current policies is labeled un-American. The justification: we have troops in combat; we are fighting a war and need to support our government/troops; our society is loosing its moral compass and we need strong “moral” leadership to restore it; etc. etc.

Of course, this is precisely the time when its important for citizens to critically analyze what their government is doing: Who’s morality is being pushed by the government? Who’s interests are being served by our foreign policy? If we abrogate that responsibility, we are simply on the path to tyranny.

Criticism for its own sake should not be the goal: but criticism based on an informed opinion should be encouraged, not denigrated. But today, we find ourselves in a society that judges ideas based on who (or what group) proposed them instead of on the merits of the idea or criticism itself. We need to return to reason – to a discussion of facts and their implications. Does this leave room for emotion: you bet… but emotion based on critical analysis is a far cry from emotion based on empty labels (liberal, neocon, etc.).

These thoughts form the basis for this blog. From here we can discuss the role of religion in society and government; the media’s role in keeping the public informed of its governments actions; etc.

Let me know what you think…

Rick

1 comment:

dano said...

Amen.

Here's the long-winded text of what I wrote many months ago before being utterly discouraged by yet another election being stolen, in case any cares to read:

COMMON SENSE 2004


Preamble.

The case for "Enlightenment II", and the Criticality of Dissent

The United States of America began as a grand experiment in a governmental structure which radically departed from that employed by most of its predecessors in western Europe, designed to be both responsive to the will of its people, and protected against the inherent failings of human nature. The founders of this nation, though they may have borne the common flaws of their times to varying degrees, still managed to articulate a grand vision that both inspired and challenged the populace it was intended to represent and to serve. The nearly 230 year history of this experiment has been one of grand successes and dismal failures, of unprecedented altruism and reprehensible repression, of enormous technical achievements and irresponsible consumption, of inspired leadership and regrettable self-indulgence. To date, this experiment in representative democracy has progressed through fits and starts and flourished to produce the most powerful nation in recorded history.

As this nation moves forward into a new millennium (as reckoned by an arbitrary reference), the noblest ideals of that experiment are being subverted by a burgeoning menace. The rational approach of reasoned debate is being supplanted by mass-marketed fear-mongering and pandering, and the enlightened ideals of the inherent value of the individual are being discarded in favor of subservience to an ultra-conservative, religious fundamentalist philosophy that paints dissent with the brush of disloyalty, and lumps all who oppose them into the masses of the "unfaithful" or "unpatriotic", but most disturbingly as those unworthy of having a voice. The 2004 election has resulted in the Republican party gaining majority control of both the Executive and Legislative branches of the federal government, and in the next four years they will surely move to populate vacancies on the Supreme Court (several are likely to occur in this period) with the most conservative-minded judges possible. Klaxons must be ringing out loudly now, and red lights flashing, not because of any inherent flaws in the conservative philosophy, but because the Republican leadership are a band of extremists exhibiting an unprecedented level of arrogance, one that makes Richard Nixon's paranoia and secrecy seem like child's play in comparison. These people do not tolerate opposing views; they do not debate; they do not negotiate. This suppression of dissent is truly obscene to a real American, a characteristic we ascribe only to the most heinous of governments.

The nationally accepted "opposition" to this group, the Democrats, do little to distinguish themselves from them, fearfully swearing similar allegiances to religious fervor, the cult of the gun, and an abhorrence of taxes, for fear of being labeled a "liberal" and rejected by the populace. Often their opposing viewpoints on specific issues are defended weakly and with a lack of passion. It is evident the Democratic leadership envy the electoral success of the Republicans and the right wing, and study it enthusiastically, trying to root out it secrets, in order to adapt them for its own agenda. While the practicality of this approach is evident enough, the end result is merely dressing up the Democratic platform in garb appealing to right wing voters, producing the appearance of decided lack of purpose or conviction. Rather than stand firmly and remind the populace sternly of the sound reasons for separation of church and state, John Kerry emphasized his catholic upbringing in a flaccid attempt to promote the idea that his faith is just as good and devout as George Bush's. To Senator Kerry's credit, he did confront Bush's reticence and weakness regarding the ban on sales of assault weapons, but rather than forcefully explain the true reasoning behind the Second Amendment to bolster his arguments, he pursued "photo ops" traipsing through the forest on a duck hunting trip in an attempt to appease the gun lobby, out of fear the assault weapons stance may have offended them. The publicity stunt was roundly mocked by the Republicans. These tactics of appeasement, of appearing to apologize for your stances and beliefs as an appeal to opposition voters, combined with the vicious attack-dog communication tactics of the right wing, are how a wounded Viet Nam veteran who had volunteered for some of the most dangerous combat duty in the war when he could have easily avoided it, ended up looking like the weaker individual when compared to a cheap, self-serving, spoiled, rich-kid punk who could not even be bothered to fulfill obligations for completely safe National Guard duties on his own home soil.

The neo-conservatives, on the other hand, apologize to no one for their beliefs. Quite the contrary, their tactics just the opposite, to demonize the opposition. They exhibit such a zeal and passion for their beliefs that any actions required to hold onto power are considered justified. Their treacherous exploitation of the influence of modern mass media on ignorant, un-questioning masses breeds a fervent following which they interpret as a vindication of their righteousness. It is their sworn goal to impose philosophies and concepts with no foundation other than their own religious demagoguery and unfettered arrogance upon the law of the land, clothing it in populist vernacular like "family values". Any means used to gain public support and enact that agenda is justified in their minds. As a result, the American people are left with a choice between a legion of apologists on the one hand, and irrational zealots on the other. Ideas, and ideals, as well as goals, plans, and insight to the execution of our government, are lost in the battle of personalities and the contests of skill between the media spin doctors. The message has become far subservient to the messenger, or more correctly, to the image created of the messenger.

The end result of this melee is a gang of zealots operating as though there is no opposition. Any action they take is the right action. What other line of thought would lead a group of individuals to hijack the horrific tragedy of 9/11 and turn it into an opportunity to enact their own unrelated agenda by coupling it with other lies to justify an unnecessary war, all the while waving the flag and trumpeting their actions as the spreading of "freedom" and "democracy", the very concepts they are eroding here at home? And how alarming is it that this occurred in the first term? However twisted their logic in assessing the results of the election, Bush and his administration now feel vindicated by a "mandate". Bush is already purging his administration of the few dissenting voices who were still left. Most of the others had long since already resigned. The arrogance of the coming four years will likely be unprecedented in American history.

What the right wing fail to recall is that the rise of this nation as the mightiest on Earth had little or nothing to do with the validity of their beliefs (in fact it was quite the opposite), and everything to do with an ambitious, exploitive culture occupying a territory of vast resources which had been previously populated by peoples whose level of military technology paled in comparison to the newcomers, and who lived a far less exploitive lifestyle that limited their numbers and left them hopelessly out-manned in the face of the onslaught. This facet of our history is not unique to this nation, and indeed seems to be truly fundamental in the nature of Man: the ambitious will usurp available resources, gain power, and dominate others around them. Left unchecked, it is inevitable.

Ambition and the rewards garnered by those inspired by it are not fundamentally evil in and of themselves. Many examples can be found where ambition has led to great advances or benefited the common good, such as the productization and industrialization of a new technology, or a slave society throwing off their oppressors. However, ambition devoid of compassion, or even respect, for others is an all too common component of human nature that nearly every society in human history has had to deal with to some extent. Very few times in that history has this darker side of human nature been acknowledged and dealt with directly, in an attempt to create a more enlightened society. The actions of the Founding Fathers of this nation, and the fruit of their labors, the U.S. Constitution, are a shining example of such an attempt in modern times. In particular, they recognized that religious piety can often be interpreted by the ambitious as a divine confirmation of their inherent righteousness that should not be questioned, and as such was a very dangerous component of a civil government. Many of these men, Jefferson, Adams, Washington, Franklin, Allen and others, actually held a great disdain for established churches, and Christianity in particular. Freedom was a primary concern of theirs, and freedom is not to be found in the confines of a church. Freedom cannot possibly exist when authority cannot be questioned. Whatever their personal beliefs, whether Deists, Unitarians, atheists, or fervent christians, they understood that the civil government of a free society must take no part in supporting a particular religion above others, nor can its leaders be secretive in their motives and actions. Either course is anathema for a free society. The United States was never intended to be a christian nation.

And yet today, despite all the lessons of history, world history and United States history, we have in this country a leadership that openly panders to religious fundamentalism, and vigorously shields its inner workings from the public view. The accepted challengers to this leadership do very much the same. That such a leadership could exist is a simple fact of life, that it does exist and holds sway in the most powerful nation on Earth is a matter of the gravest concern. Even more serious is this leadership's apparent popularity. For these zealots have committed blatant and despicable acts, falsely and viciously slandering their opponents and challengers, flagrantly surrendering our natural resources to greedy corporate interests at the expense of the health and welfare of the people, and plunging this nation into a war in Iraq advertised as a response to a grave security threat, later publicly exposed to have been based on complete fabrications and faulty, filtered intelligence data. Thousands of lives have been lost, our international standing and leadership role in the world severely compromised, our economy burdened by crushing debt when only four short years ago a surplus lay in our coffers, and our brave military personnel flagrantly compromised by incompetent civilian leadership. There was no threat. That is a simple fact. But there is oil. A greedy leadership employing religious zealotry and a twisted interpretation of facts and external threats to acquire and control vital resources which belong to others. This nation has become exactly what our founding fathers tried so hard to architect against.

The grip theses zealots hold on the nation's future is tightening. All three branches of government are being currently co-opted by staunch conservatives, and the "checks and balances" concept that drove the very structure of our government itself will be rendered practically impotent. Take note of where our freedoms are heading. How would the current "Patriot Act" compare to the original "Aliens and Sedition Act"? Would they look so different? Yet while the Aliens and Sedition Act was struck down by an appalled Thomas Jefferson, the Patriot Act is the current law of the land, signed into law almost without opposition by Congress, most of whose members did not even read its contents. This act was a knee-jerk response to terror attacks inflicted on this nation by an individual whose capture was badly bungled and subsequently pursued with token efforts. It has become common practice for the new "Homeland Security" Department to issue meaningless color-coded terror alerts, which can serve as convenient distractions any time the leadership's actions are embarrassing or questioned. It is the freedom alert which should now be flashing and glowing bright red.

This nation's ideals are in serious jeopardy. However, they have been in jeopardy before. If this country has one consistent strength, it has been its ability to correct its mistakes. It is not a foregone conclusion that the nation will sink into an Orwellian nation of oppressors who will revive the Dark Ages and re-institute The Inquisition. Neither will the current course be diverted from of its own accord. A famous quote once said "all that is required for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing". Good people cannot do nothing. A true opposition must rise, one committed to our original ideals and unafraid to challenge opinion polls rife with the responses of a sheepish electorate brainwashed by mass media manipulation and suffering from the indolence bred by wealth.

But time is of the essence. Because major change will soon befall the world, change driven by a major and permanent disruption of the plentiful energy supply which has fueled the Industrial Revolution and profoundly altered our society into one utterly dependent on cheap, plentiful energy. Global petroleum supplies have reached their peak. The next two decades will see the end of cheap, plentiful petroleum. If reasonable alternatives are not found in a timely manner, the transition away from its use could result in widespread economic devastation and social upheaval, exacerbated by the climate change and environmental damage caused by many decades of burning carbon-based fuels. Experts may debate the specific details of the impacts, but few doubt that these changes are in work. Never before in human history has it been more important for reasoned, scientifically-minded people to cooperate on a collective solution. Never before has it been more imperative to keep power out of the hands of marauding, self-righteous zealots who disdain other cultures and are hell-bent are garnering dwindling resources for themselves. We must act for the common good, and act now. It's time to re-awaken the Enlightenment.







Precepts.

1. SEPARATION OF CHURCH AND STATE: Matters of civil discourse must be kept separate from matters of religious faith. No government action or public display at a government facility should ever be directed at either supporting or suppressing the religious beliefs of any members of the constituency. This includes displays of professions of faith in a god or gods on U.S. currency or in classrooms, which are entirely inappropriate.
2. SCIENTIFIC INTEGRITY: Scientific data relevant to public policy must be left to the scientists to develop and interpret, according the established scientific principles, and must never be distorted or misused to support or combat political objectives.
3. PRUDENT USE OF MILITARY FORCE: The statement "Talk (or walk) softly and carry a big stick" contains more than two words. The need for a "big stick" will not go away any time in the foreseeable future, however; ignoring the caution to walk or talk softly (and not indiscriminately impose our will on weaker nations) is every bit as dangerous. The modern world is a much more tightly interwoven community than at any time in previous human history, and foreign policy must take this into account. At the same time, we must always reserve the right to defend ourselves from attack, swiftly and decisively if necessary.
4. CURBING CONSUMPTION: A culture of escalation, meaning the glorification of ever-increasing rates of consumption to support commerce and the economy, pre-supposes infinite resources and is therefore doomed to ultimate failure. It is intrinsically linked to unchecked population growth. The present generation has a responsibility to future generations which must be fulfilled. Independent of that responsibility, ignorance of the damage imposed on our natural resources by our daily habits causes irreparable harm to ourselves here in the present. Tax incentives designed to curb energy usage and support sustainable growth are wise investments, though they should not be construed as sufficient efforts.
5. INDIVIDUAL PRIVACY: Sex between consenting adults is to be celebrated, not legislated. Any person's private relationships are their own affair, and government has no business whatsoever dictating how those affairs should be conducted, or with whom they should be conducted, as long as the participants are of legal age, and are free to exercise their own judgment and are not being coerced in any manner. The same holds true for all personal lifestyle choices, assuming that they do not harm other individuals. In the absence of firm evidence that a given personal action or actions harms others or is contrary to the common good, deference must be given to individual choice, and not to governmental legislation. Government has responsibilities in keeping an eye on activities in the boardroom, not the bedroom.
6. RESPONSIBLE FREE MARKETS: Commerce must be allowed to be freely exercised according to the dictates of the marketplace, but not devoid of any regulation. It is human nature that those who acquire power and wealth will eventually use it to solidify their advantages, resulting in actions which are contrary to the common good. Government has a responsibility to provide for the protection of the common good independent of market forces. It also has a responsibility not to attempt to control the market forces themselves, or to favor private interests providing political support.
7. ELECTION REFORM: The selection process of leaders must be isolated from wealth and privilege. Government will be completely unable to fulfill its obligations of precept #6 unless and until leaders can be selected without a requirement to garner the backing of wealthy and powerful interests first.
8. PRIORITY OF EDUCATION: The education of young people, and of all the people, is a fundamental component of a healthy, free society and must be actively and enthusiastically supported throughout our society. While there is nothing inherently wrong or offensive with industries that supply and promote entertainment or cater to self-gratification, education must be held in higher esteem and should be rewarded and supported in a commensurate or superior manner. Additionally, the content taught to young people must be respected. Material taught to children at government run schools must be commonly accepted as factual in nature, and adhere to the guidelines of not supporting or suppressing any religious faith, or lack thereof. While it is entirely inappropriate to enact laws prohibiting institutions which promote religiously-based concepts, those institutions should be funded solely by the those interests, and not the general public.
9. FREEDOM OF SPEECH IN THE INFORMATION AGE: Freedom of speech is one of our most precious rights and must never be infringed upon. Individual citizens must always have the right to express their own views, popular or unpopular, free from fear of reprisal. No one has a right to dictate to another whether a given form of informative or entertaining content is or is not appropriate, excepting parents regulating their underage children. Nor can one individual force his or her material on another. Organized media services (i.e., "the Press") must remain free of government and corporate influences. An educated electorate cannot fulfill their civic duties effectively unless they are properly and accurately informed. Media services also have a responsibility to identify the nature of their content. Those exercising the right of free speech slanted toward a particular viewpoint must be compelled to identify themselves as supporting that viewpoint and/or opposing contrary ones, and be prohibited from masquerading as being objective in nature.
10. OPEN GOVERNMENT: While some details of activities must be kept classified in order for government to function (most notably in the military and intelligence communities), the leaders of the nation have no right whatsoever to suppress or hide information concerning their goals, motivations, or the execution of the daily processes of their public office without firm justification. Unjustified secrecy is poison to a democracy, and of no real use to anyone, save those who are trying to deceive.
11. TAX POLICY: Taxation levels must be appropriate to cover the expenses of running the government, and government should not exceed its mandate for supplying services to the people. Running up debt to execute governmental functions is an inherently flawed course of action. Taxation should be progressive in nature, as the lower end of the economic spectrum is burdened with expending a much higher total proportion of finances and resources for the basic necessities of life. Every citizen has the right to enjoy the fruits of their own industry and/or good fortune as much as possible (as long as it was legally obtained), but the greater the comfort and luxury an individual or organization enjoys, the greater is the responsibility they owe to the society which made it possible, and helps to maintain its security.
12. GUN CONTROL: Gun ownership is not an inalienable right. The second amendment of the Constitution states that the right of citizens to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed upon because a well regulated militia is necessary for the security of a free state. We have a well-regulated militia. We have an Army now. They have guns. A wide variety of guns. And tanks and mortars and Bradleys and Hum-Vs and GPS and missiles. We have a Navy with plenty of aircraft carriers and Aegis cruisers and nuclear submarines and cruise missiles. We have a Marine Corps with all of that and Harrier jump jets. We have an Air Force with multiple flavors of the world's most deadly fighter jets, stealth bombers, unmanned Predator attack vehicles, cargo carriers, and a nuclear arsenal powerful enough to end all life on Earth. We have fleets of military satellites in Earth orbit. We have a Coast Guard. Every state has its own contingent of trained National Guardsmen. We have civilian police forces in every municipality and county in the country, We are the most heavily armed state in human history. This is not 1789; we no longer need a citizen militia. Citizens willing to submit to a thorough background check should be allowed access to a target pistol or a shotgun for hunting duck, but no one outside of the military or law enforcement should own any form of automatic or assault weapon. Ever. They have no purpose other than to kill people quickly and efficiently, and have nothing to do with the intent of the second amendment.
13. SUPREME COURT JUSTICE SELECTION REFORM: "Checks and balances" is a vital cog in our governmental structure, and must be preserved. It is evident from present-day activities that the method of selecting Supreme Court judges does not isolate the highest court in the land from political influences as intended. A better method must be found that does not allow a political party controlling the Executive and Legislative branches from staffing the Court with like-minded judges with strong political tilts as well. To do so undermines the long term health of our democracy. The selection of judges to the Supreme Court should be removed as a responsibility of the Executive branch and assigned to a non-partisan board of 100 selectors, each with extensive legal and/or judicial experience, representing a balanced cross-section of political and philosophical viewpoints. A two-thirds majority (67 or greater) of selector votes shall be required for confirmation of the new appointment. No legislative approval should be required. The selectors shall convene only when a vacancy on the bench occurs, and disband following the selection. No single individual may serve as a selector more than once.